By Jimmy Hyams
How far has Tennessee men’s basketball come?
The Vols score over 100 points in an SEC game for the first time in a decade, lead an SEC foe by 30 points, get 50 points from the bench, leave an opposing coach saying he’d vote you No. 1, and your coach and players aren’t happy.
That’s how far.
Tennessee toyed with Arkansas 106-87 Tuesday night before over 19,000 at Thompson-Boling arena. The outcome was never in doubt after UT ran off 14 straight points to take a 20-5 lead. It was 55-34 at halftime. It was 91-61 with eight minutes left.
But it was the second half – mostly those last eight minutes — that riled coach Rick Barnes and disappointed some of the players.
Arkansas outscored Tennessee 53-51 in the second half and shot 57.1 percent from the field against the No. 1 field-goal defense in the SEC.
“I told our guys at halftime, they (Hogs) won’t stop playing,’’ Barnes said. “They came out and won the second half.’’
Barnes wants his players to play like the game is tied. That’s hard to do when you’re up 30. With big leads can come sloppy play or questionable decisions. He was unhappy with a wild pass from Turner that led to a turnover.
“We tried to make home run plays when we don’t need to do that,’’ Barnes said.
As for the second half, Barnes said: “We didn’t have answer,’’ Barnes said, adding that UT did a “horrible job’’ of zone defense.
“I’d be disappointed if you guys aren’t disappointed in the way you played the whole game,’’ Barnes said he told his team post-game.
“We’re not going to be perfect, but I do expect us to try to make the right play every time. … We gave up so many rebounds we should have had.’’
But for all of Barnes’ complaining, there were plenty of bright spots. UT shot 50 percent in the first half to take the 21-point lead while holding Arkansas to 37.5 percent from the field.
Lamonte Turner (21 points) and Jordan Bowden (19) came off the bench to combine for 40 points. They were a perfect 8-of-8 from 3-point range until each missed in the final mop-up minutes. Grant Williams scored 18 points, thanks to hitting all 14 free-throw attempts. Admiral Schofield scored 17 second-half points – 14 in a row to start the second half – after a scoreless first half due to foul trouble.
Arkansas coach Mike Anderson summed the game up by saying it was “experience versus inexperience.’’
Anderson observed that UT shot 39 free throws (and made 35).
“I don’t think they need no help,’’ Anderson said, later adding that if he had a vote, he’d put Tennessee No. 1 in the nation.
Anderson described UT as a team that is hungry, humble and plays for each other. He also said UT’s bench is playing well, “that’s a big key.’’
Another note: Tennessee is only the third team from a Power conference to outscore its first four conference opponents by at least 100 points.
But, Barnes will tell you, there is still room for improvement.