Long-range shooting helps Tennessee offset inexperience
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Tennessee's long-range shooting is helping the Volunteers compensate for their lack of experience.
Whether their 3-point proficiency could make them more than long shots to challenge for a postseason bid will become clearer over the next two weekends.
Tennessee (4-3) has won three straight and matched a single-game school record for 3-pointers Tuesday by going 16 of 33 from beyond the arc in a 90-50 blowout of Presbyterian. Tennessee faces a much tougher challenge Sunday when it visits No. 7 North Carolina (9-1) to begin an eight-day stretch in which it plays four games and faces two top-10 opponents.
After returning from Chapel Hill, the Vols host Tennessee Tech on Tuesday and Lipscomb on Thursday before facing No. 8 Gonzaga on Dec. 18 in Nashville, Tennessee.
''You go in there, play them hard and you see where you're at,'' sophomore guard Shembari Phillips said. ''When it's time for SEC play... going in there, we'll have a lot more confidence and things of that nature. These tests are definitely necessary.''
Tennessee has shot 47.5 percent (29 of 61) from 3-point range during its winning streak. Vols coach Rick Barnes downplays the impact of his team's recent 3-point accuracy because he knows how quickly that can change.
''I know basketball's a game of makes and misses,'' Barnes said. ''We've had games I think where we've made one or two (3-pointers). Shooting is something that you work on and you hope you're making your shots, but good teams are going to win whether they're making their shots or not. They're going to guard. They're going to do certain things.
''The one thing that you can control as a player is you don't want to base how well you're playing on if you're making shots because some nights you make them, some nights you don't.''
But consistent production from 3-point range could enable Tennessee to withstand its lack of height and outperform expectations. Tennessee was picked before the season to finish 13th out of 14 SEC teams.
''We're a team that is undersized compared to a lot of teams, even in the SEC,'' senior forward Lew Evans said. ''Making shots outside is going to help us in the long run.''
Tennessee's long-range shooting has come from multiple players. Redshirt freshman Lamonte Turner and true freshman Jordan Bowden went a combined 12 of 21 from 3-point range against Presbyterian. Phillips is 9 of 12 on 3-pointers this season.
Six different players already have either led or have tied for the team lead in scoring in at least one game. Last year, Kevin Punter. Jr. was Tennessee's top scorer in 19 of the Vols' first 26 games before a fractured right foot knocked him out for the remainder of his senior season.
That improved balance makes up for Tennessee's inexperience.
The Vols lost three of their top four scorers from a team that went 15-19 last season. Tennessee's roster includes only three upperclassmen, its lowest total since 1996-97. One of those upperclassmen is actually a newcomer, with Evans arriving as a graduate transfer from Utah State.
Tennessee's starting lineup throughout this winning streak has included three freshmen: Bowden, John Fulkerson and Grant Williams. Jordan Bone, another freshman, started Tennessee's first two games before developing a stress fracture in his left foot.
Those freshmen play the first true road game of their college careers Sunday at North Carolina.
While his players lack experience, Barnes at least has a history of success against the Tar Heels. During his Texas coaching tenure, Barnes won five of his last six games against Roy Williams' North Carolina squads.
''I don't think my personal record against anybody (matters) because it's not me, it's the players,'' Barnes said. ''I think if Roy and I played one-one-one, I think I would win, but I'm sure he thinks he would win. Believe me, we've both had a chance to coach good teams.''
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