Tennessee played the last eight minutes of the first half without Grant Williams, Admiral Schofield, and Jordan Bowen, all out with two fouls. Wake Forest was up 22-19 when Bowden joined the other two on the bench. But, apparently believing Rick Barnes’ comments about this team having 11 starters, a rotation unaccustomed to playing together pushed the Vols in front by a point at halftime. This was due in large part to the play of Kyle Alexander, who scored seven of his 11 points during that stretch.
With their best players back on the floor, Tennessee quickly built a seven point lead in the second half, then kept Wake at about that distance until the 4:30 mark. The Demon Deacons scored to cut the lead to six…and then Tennessee closed the game on a 13-0 run.
Only the last two were free throws. Bowden hit a three. Schofield hit a three. Bowden hit another three. Then Jordan Bone went to the basket. Up six with 4:30 to play, up 17 with 1:23 to play. That’ll do.
This was Tennessee’s largest margin of victory on the road since beating Tony Barbee’s last Auburn squad by 28 in Cuonzo Martin’s final season. And it was an emphatic statement in the final four minutes after 36 hampered by foul trouble and turnovers. Normally a thing like Lamonte Turner and James Daniel shooting 3-of-14 off the bench would be problematic. But the Vols got double figures from all five starters.
When they were on the floor, Tennessee’s starting five showed incredible efficiency. Bone, Bowden, Schofield, Williams, and Alexander went 25-of-37 (67.6%). And Jordan Bowden, who already led the SEC in three-point shooting coming in, went 5-for-5. He is now a ridiculous 26-of-42 (61.9%) on the year.
Other numbers that would have seemed ridiculous at the start of the year: the Vols are 10th in RPI and 19th in KenPom following this win. Even a .500 performance in SEC play should get Tennessee on the dance floor at this point. But this win continues the shift in conversation: from just trying to do enough to get in, to heading into league play trying to, you know, win it.
More on the SEC next week, as the Vols open at Arkansas next Saturday, then host Bruce Pearl and John Calipari back-to-back. For now, a standing ovation for Tennessee’s performance in the non-conference; today was a fine exclamation point.