KNOXVILLE—A few turnovers that led to fastbreak opportunities for Cincinnati and a couple of instances where the Volunteers passed on open looks were points of contention for Tennessee men’s basketball coach Rick Barnes following a 65-56 victory Saturday inside Thompson-Boling Arena, but the fact the Vols shot less than 36% from the floor for the second consecutive game was not a concern.
“We had some looks and we didn’t make them,” Barnes said. “We’re going to make them, but again, it shows that we don’t have to shoot well to win basketball games because we’ve won two games against two really good basketball teams and not had great shooting nights.”
Tennessee (2-0) shot the ball worse against Cincinnati (2-2) than it did in its season opener against Colorado on Tuesday, dropping from a 35.8% clip to 32.2% as UT struggled to shoot from distance and up close. The Vols went 2-for-12 from beyond the 3-point line and 7-for-20 on layups.
There were only four instances where UT hit consecutive field goals, and all nine players that saw action against the Bearcats shot less than 50% from the floor.
“You definitely think that us playing at the SEC level, we should be able to make a layup, but like I said before, we just need to get our rhythm under us,” redshirt senior forward John Fulkerson said.
“We just need to play more games — as many games as we can — and get that game flow.
“You can simulate a game in practice very, very similar to a game, but it can’t actually be a game. We just have to keep practicing and keep playing and our shots will fall.”
There may be more panic if Tennessee was failing to execute its offense and not getting quality looks, but that has not been the case against Colorado and Cincinnati, even though both teams have mixed in zone defenses that the Vols have not had much time to prepare for because of the multiple positive COVID-19 tests that shut down the program just as the season was about to begin.
Colorado utilized a 2-3 zone that Tennessee was able to get in the middle of for some clean mid-range jumpers that did not fall.Cincinnati switched to a 1-3-1 that UT was able to penetrate with its array of guards — sophomores Santiago Vescovi and Josiah-Jordan James, freshmen Keon Johnson and Jaden Springer and redshirt junior Victor Bailey Jr.
“At halftime, the coaches were talking about what we need to do, and I just said, ‘I want those guys to be aggressive and get into those gaps and let them make plays,’” Barnes said. “No one on our team is selfish. Guys are going to make the right plays and try to do the right things. We missed some shots that I truly believe we’re going to make at a high percentage over time, but the rhythm has been broken the last couple of games, and that’s something we can learn from.”
A defense with elite potential has carried Tennessee to an unbeaten opening week, and it will settle for similar results going forward, but it also knows that the first two games are not emblematic of its offensive ability.
“We can be as good as we let ourselves be,” Springer said. “We see it every day in practice how good we can be, even in games like this. Every game you’re shot is not going to be falling, so we know that we just have to keep taking those shots and when we click, it’s going to be over with.”