The Tennessee Volunteers (8-3) struggled against the Xavier Musketeers (7-5) throughout the first half but were able to survive Xavier Saturday night.
“I thought we were playing like a road team, (Xavier) set the tone,” head coach Cuonzo Martin said.
Five minutes into the second half, the outcome seemed clear, but the Vols had more to offer and there was still fifteen minutes left to play. The game was still undecided in the final seconds, but the team managed to come out with the 51-47 win.
Sophomore guard Brandon Lopes said the Vols never gave up hope. He said the team is confident their shots will fall as long as their defense stays focused and gets stops.
“No matter if we’re down 20 or 30 points, we always feel that we can win,” Lopez said.
While the offense appeared to be lacking for much of the game, Martin said he thought the defense had a great affect on the game.
“I thought they did a tremendous job, especially in the second half,” Martin said.
Freshman guard Josh Richardson had six points in the first half, followed by sophomore forward Jarnell Stokes and junior guard Jordan McRae with four each to make for a very uneventful first half. Richardson finished with 12 points to lead Tennessee.
“I thought Josh looked like the defensive stopper I thought he could be tonight,” Martin said. “He really shut them down against a great offensive guy. I saw a tremendous effort on both ends from Josh.”
Richardson had fans on their feet in the second half. After tying up the game with less than 10 minutes left, the team seemed to play more aggressively, feeding off the crowd.
“I thought the crowd was great tonight,” Martin said. “We really needed that energy early in the second half to get us over the hump. It really got us where we needed to get.”
Following Richardson’s shot, freshman guard Darren Reese hit his second three of the night, in his debut game, to give the Vols a 38-35 lead late in the second half. Fully recovered from a labral tear in his right shoulder, Reese said he was just excited to be on the court, after being cleared to play on Friday.
“I was excited, I was nervous,” Reese said. I just couldn’t wait to get out there.”
Reese said it was good to see his hard work finally pay off. Lopez said he felt Reese really came out and played well against a tough team.
“He played great. He has to ability to dribble and shoot, play the floor,” Lopez said. “He plays really good defense.
The Vols play the Memphis Tigers on Friday at 8:00 p.m. ETA.