Bowden’s second half dominance propels Tennessee past Murray State

Cory Sanning

Jordan Bowden received a pass from Lamonte Turner on the right wing and calmly took one dribble and set his feet. 

Feeding off of the energy of the crowd behind him, the Knoxville native rose up over his Murray State guard Jaiveon Eaves with ease and knocked down his sixth 3-pointer of the game.

That’s the sight that Tennessee fans have been longing for since he committed to the Vols in 2016. When it was needed most, the former Carter Hornet delivered.

Bowden scored a career-high 26 points, including 19 in the second half, and Yves Pons added 19 points on 8-of-10 shooting as Tennessee (2-0) overcame an 11-point deficit to knock off Murray State at home 82-63.

Tevin Brown led the Racers (1-1) with 17 points but shot just 6-of-15 from the field and Lamonte Turner finished with a career-high 14 assists for the Vols.

The win marks Tennessee’s 28th straight at Thompson-Boling Arena, currently the longest active streak in college basketball, but head coach Rick Barnes

“We beat a really good basketball team tonight, Murray State is really well-coached,” Barnes said. “They run really good stuff and in the first half, we weren’t very good and they had a lot to do with that.”

What looked to be another easy win for the Vols at home quickly turned reared its ugly head as Murray State knocked down eight shots from beyond the arc during the opening 20 minutes. The Racers also out-rebounded Tennessee 22-12 during that span.

Going into the half, UT trailed by nine and looked as if it was on its way to a shocking upset. Coming out of the intermission, it was Bowden who would set the tone with his aggression.

Judging by the results, that aggression paid off.

For Bowden, however, having the freedom to take any shot he wants within the flow of the offense is something that he’s still adjusting to.

“It feels weird sometimes because at this time last year, those were iffy shots,” Bowden said. “But now I have to take those type of shots and I can’t feel bad about it.”

That determination and ability to make shots with defenders nearby ultimately turned the tide in Tennessee’s favor after the Vols shot just 46 percent during the first half and were seemingly helpless at stopping Murray State’s offense.

A year ago, UT had Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield to turn to in those types of situations. With both of those players having moved on, Tennessee needed another option to turn to, particularly with Turner struggling.

For the Vols’ leading man, it came as no surprise that it turned out to be No. 23.

“He’s a year older and he’s a guy that’s going to have to take some tough shots at times,” Barnes said. “He’s capable of doing it.”

Just how much of a zone was Bowden in during the second half? He missed just one of his six attempts from 3-point range and compared the feeling to that of NBA 2K20’s MyCareer mode.

It was when Turner found him in transition for what wound up as his sixth and final 3-pointer of the night, he knew he was on a roll.

“When Lamonte found me, that’s when I knew it was on,” Bowden said. “I was just hyped up. We came back from a first half deficit and it felt good to come out and get stops and score points.”

Now years removed from his dominance as a high school player, Bowden is now ascending into the role that many envisioned for him following a promising junior season in which he was a leading candidate for SEC Sixth Man of the Year.

Despite now being tasked with taking contested shots and forcing the issue at times, Bowden’s growing comfort in a leading role is only going to benefit Tennessee as the season progresses and he is well aware of that reality.

“That’s one thing you’re going to have to do, you’re going to have to stay aggressive to help our team win,” Bowden said. “That’s one thing I did tonight and I have to continue to do that for us.”

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