No. 21 Tennessee takes on Furman after tough loss
Tennessee has lost two games this season — to the past two national champions, Villanova and North Carolina.
The 21st-ranked Volunteers squandered a 12-point halftime lead against the Wildcats in the Battle 4 Atlantis at Thanksgiving and led for more than 37 minutes against the Tar Heels on Sunday before giving up a late 11-3 run in a 78-73 home loss.
So it’s clear that coach Rick Barnes’ priority is finding a way to get his team to finish better.
“All of the teams say the right things,” Barnes said after the loss to UNC.
“We said all of the right things during the Villanova game during halftime, but you have to go do it. I don’t know if we’ll be the team we want to be until we learn to talk and coach each other and understand situations.
“Like clock situations, I think we had three shot clock violations where guys weren’t aware of that.”
Tennessee (7-2) is back in action Wednesday night at Thompson-Boling Arena against Furman (9-3). The Paladins of the Southern Conference have won five consecutive games and feature reigning SoCon Player of the Year Devin Sibley.
That’s another storyline from this game. Sibley, a senior, is a Knoxville native who is coming home. He is averaging 15.7 points, 4.3 rebounds and 2.7 assists, also shooting 45 percent from 3-point range (27 of 60).
Furman, which has hit 100 points twice in the past three games, averages 81.3 points per game. Other double-digit scorers are John Davis (13.1), Daniel Fowler (12.0) and hard-playing Matt Rafferty, who averages 11.9 points and 8.3 rebounds.
“The guy just literally gets every single drop out of the rag,” Furman coach Bob Richey said in the Greenville (S.C.) News. “He just wrings it completely out. He never asks for a sub. He never says he’s tired. He never misses a sign. He’s just steady.”
Despite the loss to North Carolina, Tennessee dropped only one spot in the AP poll, a week after making its first appearance in the rankings since December 2010.
The Vols are a good 3-point shooting team — 40.5 percent — led by Jordan Bowden, who has made 18 of 30 (60 percent). James Daniel III came off the bench to hit four from behind the arc against North Carolina.
“In our offense, depending on how the opposing team plays, it could be anyone’s night,” he said. “If they had been chasing me around the screens, the guy who set it would have been open. It was just my night.”
Daniel, a senior who will play in his 100th career game Wednesday night, is two points shy of 2,000 in his career.
Grant Williams leads Tennessee in scoring at 16.0 points per game, and he pulls down 6.9 rebounds per game.
Four of the Vols’ top five scorers are sophomores.
Part of their process will be learning how to play better down the stretch, but they did earn the respect of Tar Heels coach Roy Williams.
“I really like Rick’s club,” he said. “They are one of the youngest teams in the country.”