KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee won its first game as a ranked team in seven years, but coach Rick Barnes wasn’t about to get hung up on that.
In fact, Barnes never brought it up after the No. 24-ranked Vols (7-1) topped Lipscomb (6-4) by an 81-71 count at Thompson-Boiling Arena.
Tennessee doesn’t play again until Sunday, Dec. 17, when the Vols play host to No. 11 North Carolina (8-1), and Barnes knows there’s plenty to work on.
Pushing Grant Williams
The 6-foot-5, 234-pound Williams led the Vols with 19 points, 8 rebounds and 3 of the team’s 9 blocked shots. But Barnes sets the bar higher for Williams than any other UT player, pushing him to elevate his game at each turn.
“In the second half, he’s holding the ball too long and not fighting for deep post position,” Barnes said. “I think he’s playing too cool, and he needs to fight for his space.
“Overall, Grant, when he’s playing defense and rebounding, that’s when he’s playing better. When he gets the ball and thinks he’s going to be a great playmaker, he slows us down.”
Barnes was pleased with junior college transfer Chris Darrington, who scored a UT-career-high 11 points on 3-of-6 shooting with 5 assists and 1 turnover, along with 3 rebounds in 19 minutes.
“I felt like Chris Darrington played his basketball today,” Barnes said. “He started to be the player we saw this summer on our trip.”
The 6-1 Darrington missed about a month of practice with an ankle injury and is just now getting back to 100 percent.
“Defensively he’s getting there, and the more he gets familiar with what we’re trying to do, he’ll get better at it,” Barnes said. “I thought he had a really good command about what he was doing today.”
Tennessee lacked the sort of offensive flow that Barnes was looking for, and yet the Vols still managed 22 assists on their 25 baskets.
Defense, Barnes indicated, was the difference in the game with the Vols forcing 15 turnovers, blocking 9 shots and limited Lipscomb to 6 fast break points.
“I thought the first half defensively we were pretty good, (but) the second half I thought we came out lethargic,” said Barnes, who watched the Bisons cut UT’s 13-point halftime lead down to 3 midway through the second half.
“You look at it, there were 43 fouls called, and there wasn’t a lot of flow (offensively),” Barnes said. “We’ve won a couple of games this year, where we’ve won with our defense. I’m not sure we would have won this game last year.
“Our defense has grinded it out for us in a couple games.”
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