If there is one aspect of the game of basketball that Tennessee has mastered under Rick Barnes, it is defense.
That trend manifested itself once again on Monday.
Lamonte Turner scored a game-high 17 points and dished out 12 assists, John Fulkerson added 14 points and Jordan Bowden tallied 13 points and 12 rebounds as 17th-ranked Tennessee used a stingy defensive effort to overcome Chattanooga 58-46 at Thompson-Boling Arena.
The win marks the fifth consecutive to open the season for the Vols, who have now won 30 straight home games, the longest streak in Division I basketball.
David Jean-Baptiste and Matt Ryan led the Mocs (3-3) with nine points each.
Tennessee (5-0) may have came out on top, but their head coach was none-too-pleased with his team’s execution on the offensive end of the floor.
“We weren’t very good on offense. Defensively, we did do some good things,” Barnes said. “We’ve just got to get better offensively...we’ve got to get better on that end.”
Right from the opening tip, it was clear that offense would not be the primary ingredient in UT’s winning recipe. The Vols missed four of their first six shots from the field, and that trend only got worse from there.
Despite shooting a modest 44 percent during the first half, Tennessee was never able to establish a rhythm on that end.
Luckily for the Vols, they were able to lean on their defense, which picked up much of the slack.
UT held Chattanooga to just 30 percent shooting throughout the opening 20 minutes, limiting them to only one make in seven tries from 3-point range. Unfortunately for the Mocs, their fortunes would only worsen from there.
Although none-too-pleased with his shooting on the night, Bowden took notice of the Vols effort on the opposite side of the ball.
“We can be one of the best defensive teams in the country if we stick our mind to it,” Bowden said. “Just play together and play hard-nosed defense.”
Tennessee has built an identity of being tough and stingy on defense since Barnes arrived in 2016. It was a major key for the Vols throughout the past two seasons as they claimed an SEC regular season title in 2018 and advanced to the Sweet 16 a year ago.
It was also the reason why Tennessee was able to take down Kentucky in three of the past five meetings between the two programs.
While UT is currently limiting opponents to just 55 points on average with a 36 percent shooting rate, Turner feels that Tennessee has barely scratched the surface on how good it can be in that area.
“I think we can get a lot better defensively. We’ve been doing a good job of guarding the ball well but we could communicate more,” Turner said. “That’s something that we have to continue to work on in practice.”
It wasn’t the total effort that he was looking for, but Barnes can leave Monday’s matchup knowing that he got everything he could have asked for from his team on defense.
He likely won’t admit it, but that’s the way Tennessee has been winning basketball games for years now and that likely isn’t going to change with him at the helm.
“I do think that defensively, the game played the way we thought (that it would),” Barnes said.