It was a win, but not the type of win Rick Barnes wanted.
The Tennessee coach saw his team struggle to put away lightly regarded Tennessee Tech Friday, as the 15th-ranked Volunteers trailed in the second half before rallying for an 80-69 home win.
Tennessee aims for a more dominant performance Tuesday night when it hosts Presbyterian in Knoxville, Tenn.
“This game normally gives you what you put into it, and the preparation with some of our younger guys yesterday wasn’t what it needed to be,” Barnes said after Friday’s game. “It showed up here in the first half.
“With that said, in the long run, it’s probably going to be a better thing for us because we’re going to be in many more games where it’s going to be close. That’s why we’ve always tried to schedule in our buy games teams that we know are well-coached and are going to really compete.”
The Volunteers (4-1) figured it out in the second half, making 60.7 percent of their field goals and hitting 4 of 8 from the 3-point line. Five players finished the day in double figures, with Olivier Nkamhoua going 8 of 8 from the field and scoring a team-high 18 points.
Santiago Vescovi added 11 of his 13 points after halftime and also came up with three steals, marking his fourth straight game with multiple steals. Barnes said the junior guard from Uruguay has developed into a player who helps his team win even if his shot isn’t dropping.
“I think he’s one of the most underrated guards in the country right now,” Barnes said. “He’s just become mentally tough and hard-nosed in terms of he’s going to fight you defensively for every bounce.”
Vescovi leads Tennessee in scoring at 16 ppg while also contributing 6.2 rebounds and 3.0 assists. Kennedy Chandler supplies 14.2 ppg and 4.8 assists per game, while Nkamhoua adds 11.8 ppg and 7.6 rebounds.
Meanwhile, Presbyterian (5-2) enters this one with three straight wins, thanks to a 75-66 decision Friday night over Central Arkansas in New Orleans. The Blue Hose won the Privateers’ Thanksgiving tourney with victories over the host school and VMI in addition to Central Arkansas.
Rayshon Harrison was the name of the game on Friday night, gunning in five 3-pointers and a game-high 28 points. Brandon Younger added 14 points for Presbyterian, which collected 17 offensive rebounds.
Coach Quinton Ferrell said the tournament was good preparation for the Big South Conference Tournament in March, when the Blue Hose will have to win three games in three days to earn an automatic NCAA tourney berth.
“We talked about this leading up to the tournament about taking it one game at a time,” he said. “I thought the guys stayed really focused and worked hard.”
Harrison is Presbyterian’s main weapon, scoring a team-high 21.3 ppg despite making only 37.1 percent of his shots. The Blue Hose’s main strength is rebounding as they own a plus 6.7 differential on their opponents.
Tennessee last faced Presbyterian in 2017, when it won 88-53.
–Field Level Media