Barnes Seeks Additional Ball Security Ahead of Georgia Matchup

Cory Sanning

Tennessee coach Rick Barnes is no fan of watching his team pile up turnovers. That was never more apparent than during Saturday's matchup with South Carolina. 

The Vols tallied 19 total turnovers despite coming away with a conference win, and the veteran coach made it clear that he wasn't  happy with his team's ball security.

That trend carried over into Monday as well. 

As Tennessee prepares for a trip to Athens to face Georgia on Wednesday, Barnes is shifting his team's focus to ball security and offensive execution as the SEC portion of UT's schedule trudges on. 

His focus isn't limited to just his young players, however.

"(We) need to take care of the basketball. Not just our young guys, it is our old guys too," Barnes said. "I mean, they are playing a lot of minutes and they are turning the ball over as much as anybody.

As a team, the Vols average 14.3 per game on the season and their opponents feast off of those, mustering up 13.7 points off turnovers on average. 

With Tennessee looking to win consecutive conference games for the first time this season, Barnes and his staff are attempting to locate a balance between allowing the young players to develop and finding ways to win now.

Unfortunately for the Vols, that hasn't come without its ups and downs.

UT has dropped consecutive games on two occasions in the past month and giveaways were a killer in all four instances. 

Turnovers also nearly cost the Vols against South Carolina as well, with 19 of those leading to 17 points off of turnovers for the Gamecocks. While Tennessee was able to fend off a late comeback attempt, it still left Barnes scratching his head.

"We need to protect the ball and give ourselves a chance," Barnes said. "We know we didn't shoot it well, but we think we can shoot the ball well."

That doesn't mean that Barnes wants his players passing up open looks. In fact, he feels quite the opposite. 

"I don't want us to get like we were in the Wisconsin game where people were turning down shots."

With a large chunk of the regular season left to be played, Tennessee faces the perhaps the largest amount of uncertainty at this point in the year since the 2017-18 season. 

While a SEC Championship is likely not in play for this year's Vols, their plethora of young talent is getting the experience necessary for them to grow at this level.

"I think it's going to help us even over the next month," Barnes said. "I think they're finding things out more in conference play than anything." 

That includes dealing with adversity that may not have anything to do with basketball.

The Vols were dealt an unfortunate hand when Lamonte Turner was lost for the season due to necessary shoulder surgery and Uros Plavsic's battle with the NCAA for eligibility certainly hasn't helped UT's cause.

Despite those realities, games still remain. Despite everything that has been thrown Tennessee's way, it still must trudge on.

It's the Vols' ability to remain focused and tune out the outside noise that has kept the season from derailing completely, and Barnes hopes to keep that trend going moving forward.

"Everybody has adversity they have to deal with in terms of basketball. Our guys have done the one thing we have asked them to do, to stay locked in," Barnes said. "I do think the experience they're getting right now is going to pay big dividends eventually."

 

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