In splitting two games at the Emerald Coast Classic last weekend, No. 21 Tennessee provided coach Rick Barnes with plenty of teaching moments.
The Volunteers (6-1) lost to then-unranked Florida State 60-57 on Friday in Niceville, Fla., before beating then-No. 20 VCU 72-69 on Saturday thanks to Lamonte Turner’s last-second 3-pointer.
Tennessee will have a chance to extend hot start to the season Wednesday when it hosts winless Florida A&M (0-6) on Wednesday in Knoxville, Tenn.
“We reached a lot of our goals in the first game (of the tournament) defensively, but we lost the game because we turned it over (21 times) and allowed 23 points,” Barnes said Monday. “I’d like for the players to know, and we’ll point it out again to them, that when we do execute the things that we practice, we do pretty well.”
Redshirt junior forward John Fulkerson struggled against Florida State, posting just two points and two rebounds in 29 minutes before fouling out. He then had 17 points and seven rebounds against VCU.
“All I can tell you is that after the first game, I told both (Fulkerson) and (senior guard) Jordan Bowden they had to do more,” Barnes said. “I said, ‘You guys know that we are counting on you to play at a level every single night.’
“When you get ready to scout us, there are four guys you play close attention to and that’s the four older guys right now — that’s pretty obvious. It’s not hard to figure out. We’ve got to have John Fulkerson want to go and score the basketball. There’s no reason he can’t score 12, 14 points a night.”
Turner, a redshirt senior guard averaging 14.3 points and 7.9 asssts per game, and junior swingman Yves Pons (12.4 ppg) join Fulkerson (10.9 points, 5.9 rebounds per game) and Bowden (15.4 ppg) in forming the veteran core. Three freshmen also have played significant minutes — starting guard Josiah-Jordan James (5.6 ppg), guard Davonte Gaines (3.2 ppg) and forward Olivier Nkamhoua (5.0 ppg, 3.7 rpg).
Barnes cited Gaines, redshirt junior guard Jalen Johnson (2.9 ppg) and 6-foot-9 freshman forward Drew Pember (2.0 ppg, 2.3 rpg) as being pivotal to the program going forward.
“We need all three of those guys, we really do, to be the team we want to be and to get back to being the kind of full-court defensive team we want to be,” Barnes said. “We have to have depth, and without that depth we can’t go 40 minutes like we’d like to on the defensive end.”
Tennessee, which dropped four spots in the AP Top 25, will have nine days off before playing host to No. 15 Memphis on Dec. 14. The Vols then will play three more games — at Cincinnati, Jacksonville State and Wisconsin — before beginning SEC play on Jan. 4 against visiting LSU.
The Rattlers are coming off a 76-58 defeat at Kansas State on Monday night. They previously lost to Southern California, Hawaii, Pacific and South Dakota in the Rainbow Classic and at then-No. 13 Seton Hall.
Florida A&M’s visit to Tennessee marks the seventh of 13 straight season-opening games away from Tallahassee, Fla.
Senior guard Rod Melton Jr. (9.3 ppg) had been the team’s leading scorer before being held scoreless on 0-of-4 shooting against the Wildcats.
MJ Randolph, a 6-foot-4 sophomore guard, averages team highs 10.0 points and 5.7 rebounds.
Florida A&M is shooting 36.8 percent, just 22.1 percent (17 of 77) from 3-point territory. Opponents have outscored the Rattlers by an average of 77.7 to 57.5 and have outrebounded them 42.3 to 32.3.
–Field Level Media