No. 21 Tennessee takes three-game streak into Missouri (Jan 17, 2018)
Two weeks ago, Tennessee didn't hold up well in a 94-84 loss at Auburn. The Volunteers weren't competitive on the glass and seemed to lack intensity at times, causing coach Rick Barnes to question his team's effort after the loss and 0-2 start to the SEC season.
The Volunteers have responded in a big way.
No. 21 Tennessee rides an impressive three-game win streak into Missouri on Wednesday for an SEC test in Columbia.
The Vols posted wins over Kentucky, Vanderbilt and Texas A&M since the Auburn game. Tennessee was outrebounded 46-38 and surrendered 22 offensive rebounds in the loss to Auburn, but followed it up with strong showings on the glass in the wins over Kentucky and Texas A&M.
"I do think that I would have to say sometimes you need to get punched in the face a little bit," Barnes told reporters in a Monday press conference. "We haven't changed our message from a coaching staff standpoint, knowing how much we need to rebound the ball."
Missouri (12-5, 2-2 SEC) rallied back from an 18-point deficit at Arkansas on Saturday and led 59-53 with less than five minutes to play. The Tigers were unable to hold the lead, something that's been an issue this up-and-down season, and suffered a tough 65-63 loss. The Tigers' last three losses have been by a combined 10 points.
"Same problem we have been dealing with in our close games, it's finishing games," senior guard Kassius Robertson told the Columbia Tribune on Saturday. "We never should've been down 18 in the first place, but we were up four with like five minutes to go. We have to learn to hold leads like that."
Tennessee (12-4, 3-2 SEC) beat Texas A&M on Saturday, behind 15 points from Jordan Bowden. Four Volunteers finished in double figures against the Aggies, including a career-high 14 points from Kyle Alexander.
"We still have to get more consistency from other guys," Barnes said. "On the bench, we need to be able to count on six or seven guys each and every night. If you get that, whether you play on the road or at home, you've got a chance."
Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin spent three seasons (2011-14) as head coach Tennessee. He took the Vols to the Sweet 16 in the 2014 NCAA Tournament, before leaving to coach Cal. He's in his first season at Missouri.
"I think his teams embody who he is, if you go back and look at him as a player and the way he played and what he wants out of his players," said Barnes of Martin. "There's no doubt in my mind that he continues to do a great job there. I said it a year ago that I think it's a great situation. They hired a great person to come in. He's already proven in a short time that he can recruit there and get great players to play hard."
Tennessee forward Grant Williams was named SEC Player of the Week, after scoring a career-high 37 points in a win over Vanderbilt. Williams leads the Volunteers in scoring (16.7) and rebounding (6.7) this season. He scored a game-high 25 points in Tennessee's 90-70 rout of Missouri last season.