By Ken Cross
Tennessee finished the pre-conference schedule at 9-2 and after weathering immense early foul trouble, the Volunteers were able use a pesky defense and their usual three-point attack to throttle Wake Forest, 79-60, in Winston-Salem Saturday.
Guards Jordan Bone and Jordan Bowden were at the core of what the Volunteers were able to do with their dribble-drive skills and Bowden knocking down triples. Bowden continued to sizzle after his 21-point, six-rebound performance against North Carolina as he took five shots, all from three-range, and netted each one. He finished with 17 points in 28 minutes and even netted a pair of blocked shots.
“He’s very quiet in the way he goes about things,” explained Tennessee’s Rick Barnes, “He’s our most consistent player. If you watch practice, every day we practice, he plays the way he practices and we don’t get that from everybody. I think he is starting to have a little more positive impact ons one of our guys.”
Both Bone and Bowden actually gave Tennessee separation in the game as they scored a combined 10 points with Bone scoring seven and Bowden nailing a triple off the right baseline to fuel a 16-8 run and for a 52-43 with 14:46 remaining. Bowden was operating the team with a fresh Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield, who were in foul trouble almost immediately in the first half. He also set Williams up with a pair of quick scores in that run.
“We really put a play in for him for the first time, said Barnes of Bowden, “We didn’t run it today, but we put a play in for him. Otherwise he gets everything out of our offense because he knows how to work it and pick his spots and he plays off his teammates.”
Bowden came in shooting an SEC-best 57 percent from the floor. As a sophomore, he has taken such leadership and ownership as he in emblematic of how a coach can empower a player and he can take off and run most situations consistently.
“We tell him to be more aggressive because he knows himself,” said Barnes, “He knows what he needs to do and he’s willing to rest on offense sometimes when he can play harder on the defensive end.”
He had to pick and choose on Saturday as his defense was a major disrupter of Wake Forest’s ball-screen offense. Barnes noted that the Deacons use as many as four or five ball screens in one possession which wears on teams after a while. The key is to get up in the passing lanes and deflect basketballs. Bowden and his brethren on the perimeter did well with that Saturday.
Bone continues to impress off the dribble as his assist-to-turnover ratio is 2.1-to-1 on the season so far in 22.2 minutes per game. He was able to knife the Deacons defense repeatedly and in that 13-0 run to close the game, he fashioned a finger roll at the rim to give Tennessee a 66-58 lead with a little over five minutes remaining.
“He started penetrating, getting to the rim, and sucking the defense in and getting some open shots,” said Barnes, “He had some finishes at the rim. I thought his penetration was the difference the last 10 minutes.
Saturday’s SEC opener is at Arkansas at 1 p.m. and depth at guard will be on display. Bone and Bowden will be a huge key in their matchups with the Razorbacks’ Daryl Macon and Jaylen Barford.