Tennessee is pivoting to the lighter portion of its schedule after splitting a pair of games at the Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament in Uncasville, Conn., last weekend.
On Friday, the No. 15 Volunteers (3-1) will host Tennessee Tech (2-3) in Knoxville, Tenn.
The Vols then will host Presbyterian on Tuesday before visiting Colorado on Dec. 4.
After being routed by Villanova 71-53 on Saturday, Tennessee turned around and pounded North Carolina 89-72 on Sunday behind 18 points from freshman Zakai Zeigler.
“I think it was really good,” coach Rick Barnes said of the experience after having a few days to reflect on it. “I do think that is why these early season games are important. Obviously, (I was) disappointed in the way we started the game against Villanova. But you have to give them credit. I think they came out, they were … ready to play. I think we were, too. I think in some ways, we were a little overhyped there. We couldn’t make a shot.”
“Then we got to where we weren’t even trying to play basketball,” Barnes added. “We were just hoping we’d make a shot. That was the big takeaway from that game. We came back against North Carolina and we really did do a lot of the things that we work on every day. It was a different team. Every game has a different personality.”
As will this one as the Vols step away from the blueboods of college basketball.
Tennessee is 25-1 all-time against Tennessee Tech, and beat the Golden Eagles 103-49 last season and 96-53 in 2018-19. The meeting last season was the first one since John Pelphrey took over as coach. He is a Billy Donovan disciple who previously has been head coach at South Alabama and Arkansas. His Razorbacks teams were 1-2 versus Barnes’ Texas teams in the late 2000s.
Of the Golden Eagles’ two victories this season, only one came against a Division I opponent, but it was impressive, as Tech wiped out a 14-point first-half deficit and beat Lipscomb 88-77 on Tuesday night.
“I thought we were a little on edge, I guess, to start the game,” Pelphrey said afterward. “We had to settle in a little.”
Tennessee Tech didn’t commit a turnover in the final 19 minutes against Lipscomb, but figures to find the going tougher against the Vols.
Still, the transfer-laden Golden Eagles go nine-deep and have a lot of bodies to throw at Tennessee big man John Fulkerson (7.7 points, 6.3 rebounds). Fulkerson has taken a step back offensively so far this season as he rounds into form after suffering a broken left thumb in August, but is still a threat.
One of those players who likely will be tasked with defending him is 6-foot-9 Cincinnati transfer Mamoudou Diarra (12.2 points, 6.4 rebounds). And to have any hope of repeating its lone upset of the Vols (accomplished in 1996), Tech will need big games from guards Keishawn Davidson (13.4 points) and Jr. Clay (10.6).