With conference play arriving just after Christmas, Tennessee knows it will have to come up with a better present than the one it put the wraps on Tuesday.
After a dismal offensive showing in a 57-52 overtime loss to Texas Tech, the No. 13 Volunteers return home to Knoxville to face UNC Greensboro on Saturday.
Included in a group of ranked Southeastern Conference teams off to a hot start, Tennessee (6-2) did not live up to the early hype in the Jimmy V Classic in New York City.
Coach Rick Barnes’ group must have left its shooting touch at home before making the trip.
The team made only six of its 40 shots from 3-point range and was successful on just 26.8 percent of its shots from the field. Despite these troubles, the Volunteers still found themselves with a chance to win against the Red Raiders.
The teams combined for a paltry 34 points in the second half.
“I don’t know if we can be any worse on offense and we were in the game,” Barnes said. “One or two more and maybe we would have got the lid off it.”
In his seventh year at Tennessee, Barnes coached 17 years at Texas and led the Longhorns to a 33-4 mark against Texas Tech – his most wins against any opponent.
Despite failing to record the 34th win, Barnes said there was a positive.
“The positive is … we were in the game,” Barnes said. “It gets discouraging when you can’t make shots. It’s hard to get momentum. But when you’re not making shots, some teams let up on the other end.
“I didn’t think we did that. We stayed in it.”
They were 5-for-28 from 3-point range in last month’s loss against Villanova. The Volunteers are shooting 32.6 percent from long distance (73 of 224).
Kennedy Chandler tops the team in scoring at 15.3 points per game, while Santiago Vescovi adds 14.4.
After Monday’s snafu in the Big Apple, the Volunteers cannot afford to take UNC Greensboro lightly.
The Spartans (7-2) have started well in head coach Mike Jones’ first season, and the Southern Conference school has had a habit of playing close games thus far.
Of their nine contests, three have gone to overtime, with the Spartans’ only win in extra time occurring in a 70-69 victory over Northern Kentucky on Nov. 12.
Three others — wins over Vermont, Green Bay and North Carolina A&T — have been decided by four points or fewer.
Tennessee is the first of three difficult road tests for UNC Greensboro, which visits Towson on Tuesday and Maryland-Baltimore County on Thursday.
Jones has not placed added value in the early success.
“We try not to make any definitive statements this early in the season. It’s a good start, and that’s all it is,” Jones said of assessing his squad. “We’ve got to continue to be focused on trying to get better the next time we take the floor.
“We can look back in a couple of months and we can see the progress that’s been made. I certainly can see progress from game one to game nine and we still have a long way to go.”
Victorious in three straight, UNCG’s balanced offense is averaging 67.9 points on the season. The team is paced by De’Monte Buckingham’s 13.3 points.
–Field Level Media