Two seasons ago Lamonte Turner splashed 39.5% of his three-point attempts, and went 38-of-84 (45.2%) in conference play, the second-best mark in the league that season (stats via KenPom). It was part of a remarkable shooting run from the 2017-18 Vols, with Admiral Schofield (39.5%), Jordan Bowden (39.5%), and Jordan Bone (38%) pushing Tennessee to shoot 38% from the arc as a team; that’s the best number the Vols put up since Bruce Pearl’s first team hit 38.8% behind 43.7% from Chris Lofton and 42.2% from C.J. Watson.
Last year Turner struggled to get his shoulder right, finishing at 32% from the arc (but still the maker of big shots). The Vols still hit 36.7% as a team, thanks in large part to Schofield’s 42.2%.
So far this season, Turner has been amazing as the point guard: 28 assists in three games, including 14 without a turnover against Murray State, helping the Vols get an assist on 67.8% of their buckets, currently ninth nationally in assist percentage. And Turner played 39 minutes against the Racers and the Huskies, plus 36 in the blowout of UNC Asheville.
The only blemish: a slow start from the arc at 3-of-16. And yet, the Vols are shooting 46.2% from three in the first three games, the third-best percentage in the nation. Bowden is 9-of-14, Yves Pons 5-of-8, Jalen Johnson 3-of-8, Josiah James 2-of-3, Davonte Gaines 1-of-1, and even Zach Kent is in on the action at 1-of-2.
The juxtaposition of Tennessee’s percentage and the number of threes the Vols take is staggering early: third nationally in percentage made, 316th nationally in percentage taken. But it plays into something that happened with Tennessee some last season: even for a good three-point shooting team, too many attempts got the Vols out of their offense and sometimes led to defeat.
Via Sports-Reference, last season the Vols went 4-4 when attempting 24+ threes, and 27-2 when attempting 23 or less. There are a couple of overtimes in those 24+ games that can skew the numbers a tad, but generally Tennessee’s best basketball didn’t include heavy reliance on the three, unless they were going to hit an even more unusually high percentage of them (12-of-29 for 41.4% against #1 Gonzaga).
In Tennessee’s first real test this season against Washington, I wondered if the Vols would go outside more, especially against the Huskies’ interior and facing a zone that can invite deep threes. Bowden and Turner have been around long enough and made enough to get a green light. But instead, the Vols were disciplined and carved up Washington inside the arc, while still splashing 6-of-13 from beyond.
We need more time and more games to see if Yves Pons’ shot is real and if Turner’s shot will come on again. But even without last year’s vets inside, the Vols aren’t falling in love with the three, even if it sure looks like it wants to fall in love with them.
We’ll see if that continues tonight when the #20 Vols take on 0-3 Alabama State (7:00 PM, SEC Network+).