After a narrow victory against Arkansas last week, Tennessee coach Rick Barnes hinted that guard Santiago Vescovi needed to pick up his game. Three days later, Vescovi did exactly that as he scored a season-high 23 points, with three assists and two steals Saturday in leading to a 68-54 win over Texas A&M.
On Tuesday, Vescovi will get a chance to improve on those numbers as the No. 10 Volunteers (9-1, 3-1 SEC) travel to Nashville to take on Vanderbilt (4-5, 0-3) in a conference matchup that resulted from a COVID-19-forced reshuffling of the schedule.
For much of Saturday’s game, the Vols were frustrated by the Aggies. It was not until the final minutes that Tennessee gave itself some breathing room.
The Vols won with their always suffocating defense, and Vescovi’s shooting touch. He was 8 of 13 from the floor and 6 of 10 from 3-point land. The outburst came after scoring just four against Arkansas.
Asked about Vescovi’s big night and his continuing improvement, Barnes cited the hard work that his player had put in during a pause caused by COVID.
“He’s a smart player,” Barnes said. “Crafty. And he’s competitive. He’s a deceptive defender.”
What Barnes did not like were some mistakes Vescovi made under pressure against A&M.
“We still have to help him more,” Barnes said. “We got too many guards who can bring up the ball. Some of that’s his pride that he wants to handle it all the time and I get that, it’s part of who he is, but we’ve got to continue to teach him that he’s got to conserve some energy along the way.”
Barnes also likes the way another of his young players responded — Jaden Springer — against A&M.
“He’s going to learn so much as he continues to go,” the Vols coach said. “These next couple of weeks are going to be huge for him, Keon (Johnson) and the other guys we get out there. Minutes are really valuable.”
Vanderbilt is coming off a tough 84-81 home loss to Mississippi State on Saturday.
The Commodores are led by Scotty Pippen Jr., whose season scoring average is 21.6 points per game.
Pippen had a double-double against Mississippi State with 18 points and 12 assists. Dylan Disu adds 12.7 points and 8.8 rebounds per game for Vandy.
The Commodores are mired in a three-game losing and coach Jerry Stackhouse said the ball will need to bounce better at Memorial Gymnasium on Tuesday.
“We need a break, that’s all it is,” Stackhouse said.
“But if we keep fighting, if we keep doing what we’re doing things will start to turn our way.”
Mississippi State made 31 of 51 shots (60.8 percent) on Vandy’s home floor. Maybe, Stackhouse joked, a road game at Tennessee might be a good thing.
“Everybody that comes in this damn building makes shots,” he said. “So I don’t know — we got to figure that out. Obviously it’s a shooter’s gym for everybody but us.”
Tennessee was originally scheduled to play at South Carolina on Tuesday while Vandy was scheduled to play at Missouri. But a combination of positive COVID tests, contact tracing and subsequent quarantining of individuals within the Missouri and South Carolina programs forced the postponement of both games.
The game is also the first of a rare home-and-home series as the Volunteers and Commodores will meet again in Knoxville on Saturday in a previously scheduled game.
–Field Level Media