Williams leads No. 6 Vols past Louisiana-Lafayette 87-65
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee’s Grant Williams has some bad news for the rest of the Southeastern Conference. The league’s preseason player of the year has added a 3-point shot to his arsenal.
Williams scored 31 points, pulled down 10 rebounds and shot 3 of 4 from 3-point range Friday as No. 6 Tennessee breezed to an 87-65 victory over Louisiana-Lafayette. His output Friday matched his 3-point total from all of last season, when he shot 3 of 25 from beyond the arc.
“I’m definitely way more confident,” Williams said. “It’s definitely reinforced confidence as well. My teammates are encouraging me to take more and be more confident in shooting them. (Jordan) Bone was probably the biggest one telling me, when he was getting to the crack, he was throwing it back and he literally screamed, ‘Shoot it!’ one time.”
Williams shot 11 of 15 overall to lead five Tennessee players in double figures. Williams’ big performance came one day after receiving a stern message from Tennessee coach Rick Barnes, who wanted the 6-foot-7 junior forward to rebound better.
Barnes said assistant coaches Rob Lanier and Michael Schwartz predicted Thursday afternoon that Williams would respond by scoring 30 points. Williams did even better than that.
“One thing about Grant, we can have some pretty serious, intense talks and some guys will fold up and go in a shell, (but) he’s not going to do that,” Barnes said. “He’s not that kind of person. He’ll listen. Sometimes it gets to a point where he knows I’m going to tell him what I think.”
Williams said Barnes’ words had an impact.
“He really got into me yesterday, and it really affected me tonight, something I probably thought of the entire night last night,” said Williams, who was selected by SEC coaches as the league’s player of the year last season. “I was sitting there just in my room thinking about what he was saying. He was being honest. He’s the type of guy that’s going to challenge you. He’s not going to sugarcoat anything.”
Admiral Schofield had 15 points, seven rebounds and seven assists for Tennessee (2-0). Kyle Alexander, Jordan Bowden and Bone added 10 points each. Bone also matched a career high with eight assists.
Tennessee took the lead for good less than seven minutes into the game during a 20-2 run that turned a 13-10 deficit into a 30-15 advantage. The Vols maintained a double-digit lead the rest of the way.
“We started taking some bad shots, got some turnovers against us and then they pushed out and hit for a great percentage, got us on the offensive boards and got the crowd into it,” Louisiana-Lafayette coach Bob Marlin said.
Louisiana-Lafayette: The Ragin’ Cajuns are testing themselves early as they try to build off a 2017-18 season in which it went 27-7 and won the Sun Belt regular-season title. Louisiana-Lafayette follows this game by visiting No. 1 Kansas on Nov. 16. Gant, whose 13.7 points per game ranked second on the team last year, showed Friday he could play at any level.
Tennessee: The Vols shot 54 percent from the floor Friday after shooting 56.7 percent in a season-opening 86-41 victory over Division II program Lenoir-Rhyne. The schedule gets tougher next week as Tennessee hosts Georgia Tech before heading to the NIT Season Tip-Off in New York. Tennessee plays Louisville in its first NIT game before facing either Kansas or Marquette.
Yves Pons wasn’t one of the Tennessee players to score in double figures, as he had just four points in 18 minutes. But the sophomore swingman’s defense was one of the key factors in the game, according to Barnes.
“Yves will be a player that we’ll really watch grow up right in front of us this year,” Barnes said. “He changed the game when he came in and started guarding the point guard. Stroman’s a hard guy to guard.”
Williams provided the biggest scare of the night for Tennessee midway through the first half when he was slow to get up after taking a big fall during an unsuccessful drive and dunk attempt. But he walked to the bench during the ensuing timeout and only missed about a minute before getting back on the floor.
After missing the Lenoir-Rhyne game with a hamstring injury, Tennessee guard Jalen Johnson returned to action Friday on his 21st birthday and played four minutes. Tennessee continued to play without guard Lamonte’ Turner (shoulder) and forward Zach Kent (knee).
Louisiana-Lafayette is at No. 1 Kansas on Nov. 16.
Tennessee hosts Georgia Tech on Tuesday.