Three takeaways from Vols’ 81-50 win vs. FGCU

Basketball in Tennessee was on the up again on Wednesday night. The Vols, who fell from 11th in both polls to 22nd in the AP poll and 17th in the Coaches poll after a shocking 78-66 loss to the Colorado Buffaloes on Sunday in Nashville, beat the Florida Gulf Coast Eagles 81-50 back on Rocky Top.

The game was close for the first seven and a half minutes, but in a 9-tie, the Vols went on a 14-0 run to take control. They turned that into a 37-20 half-time lead and never looked back. FGCU never came within 20 minutes after the 16-minute mark of the second half.

Rocky Top improves to 2-1 and plays the Butler Bulldogs next Wednesday in the Bahamas for their first game at Battle 4 Atlantis. FGCU falls to 2-2 and will next host the Gulf Coast Showcase in Estero, Fla., which begins next Monday when they take on Northern Kentucky Norse. Here are three takeaways from basketball’s win in Tennessee.

1. Josiah-Jordan James’ return to the starting XI has worked.

Rick Barnes said after Sunday’s loss that Zakai Zeigler would come off the bench. With Uros Plavsic injured, Josiah-Jordan James and Tyreke Key took their places. Key had an off-game with just six points. James, who was struggling with some injuries but is now healthy, returned to the starting line-up. It worked out perfectly because James was the biggest star of the night.

James had 18 points and two assists and shot 4 of 6 from three. Santiago Vescovi was 2-of-3 of three with eight points and three assists, but James seemed to be the Vescovi that night. Both had six rebounds. Zeigler didn’t hit efficiently off the bench, but he had six points, six rebounds, an assist and a steal while keeping the unit together.

2. Post players exercised their will.

After Plavsic went under the other day, Tennessee basketball seemed doomed. They set the ship upright and Olivier Nkamhoua and Julian Phillips showed what they can do. Nkahmoua had 18 points. He even hit a three. Now he only had one rebound and was 7-of-12 from the free throw line, so he has a lot of things to work on, but he was still good on the night.

Phillips, the freshman phenom, had 11 points thanks to 9 of 12 from the foul line and five rebounds. Both players had two assists, a steal and a block. Even Tobe Awaka had four points and five rebounds in seven minutes, and Jonas Aidoo had three rebounds in 11 minutes.

3. Defense back on form

A terrible second half against Colorado is clearly visible in the rearview mirror and the Vols are back to what they are on defense. They held the Florida Gulf Coast on 30.4 percent shooting and 20.8 percent from three while also forcing 17 turnovers, including nine steals.

Vescovi was the star with those three defensive steals, but Jahmai Mashack was a surprise off the bench. He had two steals which helped him score 10 points. Basketball in Tennessee showed how far things can go with guys like Mashack, and that’s a big deal. Overall, however, the defense was even more elite than the offensive.

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