Tennessee’s win streak of 27 games at home looked to be in danger Tuesday night after the first 20 minutes. Murray State shot the lights out in the first half and found themselves up nine points at the break by the score of 44-35. Rick Barnes must’ve had a few choice words with the men in white at halftime, because the Vols left the locker room for the second half and never looked back. Tennessee outscored Murray State 47-19 in the second half to win 82-63.
Yves Pons continues to impress and surprise as he kept the Vols close in the first half by knocking down three point shots at a high clip. Pons is being asked to play a lot of post because of his sheer size and he’s holding his own. His leaping ability helped him to erase four shots on the night as well as grabbing four boards. With the lack of certainty on the offensive side of the ball, Yves will need to continue to take strides on becoming more of a scoring threat.
Jordan Bowden dropped 26 points in only 26 minutes. 19 of those came in the second half when Tennessee needed him the most. Bowden is a lethal scorer, and when he takes the reigns, can take this UT team to new heights. He’s arguably the most gifted player on Tennessee’s roster and he feels like the x-factor guy who will decide how far this team will go.
UT’s huge run in the second half masked a lot of the flaws that were extremely apparent in the first half. It’s hard not to notice how much trouble Tennessee has on the boards in spurts. With Plavsic’s eligibility still up in the air, the Vols are devoid of a true center. Murray State’s Darnell Cowart, a bench big man, highlighted what a quick footed big can do to UT’s stretch line-up. Cowart had nine points & five boards in only eighteen minutes, but he may have given a blueprint on how to hurt UT.
UT has a nice mix of experience and youth throughout the roster. Lamonte Turner and Jordan Bowden are the seasoned vets. Fulkerson & Pons have been around but will have to grow into much larger roles. One would hope five star recruit Josiah Jordan James will get an opportunity to assert himself soon. While youngsters Jalen Johnson and Davonte Gains will both have the opportunity to pick up scoring slack throughout the season.
It feels as if UT is walking a high-wire, when everything is going well it’s wondrous to watch. But when the wind blows too hard they seem to fall, and fast. Obviously, matching last year’s 31 win season may be far fetched. But with a few starters returning from last season, UT should be able to shoot for at least a NCAA Tournament birth.