No. 24 Tennessee aims for fourth straight win vs. Lipscomb
Rick Barnes wants his Tennessee players to appreciate their hot start.
But the veteran coach doesn’t want any of the Volunteers to rest on their laurels.
No. 24 Tennessee (6-1) aims to continue its early season resurgence and seeks its fourth consecutive victory when it hosts Lipscomb on Saturday.
The Volunteers’ only setback came against now-No. 4 Villanova and the list of victims include Purdue (currently No. 21), North Carolina State and Georgia Tech.
“Our guys have worked hard and they’ve deserved to have some good things happen,” Barnes said. “I mean, I want people talking about us but we’ve got a lot of work to do. I think our guys know that, where a year ago I’m not sure they knew that.”
Tennessee went 16-16 in Barnes’ first season at the school as the players learned the way the former Texas coach wanted things done.
Now optimism is high with the Volunteers nationally ranked for the first time since December 2010. It was that same season, with Bruce Pearl as coach, that also marks the most recent time Tennessee started 6-1.
The players are receiving Barnes’ message about it being way too early to feel giddy about accomplishments.
“You can’t get complacent,” sophomore guard Lamonte Turner said. “It’s a long season. It’s early and we have to come back to practice ready to grow and get better.”
Hard to say how much of a test Lipscomb (6-3) can provide as the Bisons were routed in both their games against power-conference schools.
Lipscomb lost 86-64 at Alabama on Nov. 14 and fell 80-57 at Texas four days later.
The Bisons have since won four of their last five games, including a 69-54 home victory over Belmont on Monday. Junior guard Garrison Mathews fueled that triumph by scoring 20 of his 26 points in the second half.
“The team really played well but Garrison seemed to be in the right place at the right time to execute and deliver,” Lipscomb coach Casey Alexander said afterward. “Every time we needed something good to happen, he found a way to be in the right place.”
Mathews leads the Bisons in scoring (19.6) and 3-pointers (23) and topped 20 points four times this season. Junior forward Rob Marberry averages 13.8 points and team-best 7.4 rebounds while sophomore guard Kenny Cooper averages 10.4 points.
Lipscomb held Belmont to 34- percent shooting from the field and 6-of-31 from 3-point range while allowing its fewest points of the campaign.
. “Our guys have really followed the game plan well and are dialed in,” Alexander said. “They’ve communicated great on the actions that we’re supposed to talk about.”
Their next task is trying to slow the Volunteers, who average 79.1 points and have scored fewer than 70 points just once.
Sophomore forward Grant Williams is averaging 15.7 points and 7.1 rebounds as one of four players scoring in double digits. The others are junior forward Admiral Schofield (11.7), Turner (10.7) and sophomore guard Jordan Bowden (10.6).
Turner provides firepower off the bench and matched his career high of 24 points in Sunday’s 77-70 win over Georgia Tech.
“He had that look where I thought he was in great command of himself and what we needed to get done,” Barnes said of Turner.
Another key player against the Yellow Jackets was junior forward Kyle Alexander, who collected 11 rebounds for his third double-digit outing on the boards. Alexander averages 5.7 points and a team-best 8.0 rebounds.
“When Kyle is rebounding and doing what he does, he’s very much underrated and underappreciated with outside people,” Barnes said. “We all know what he can mean to us. He has to do the dirty work for us.”