Knoxville, TN – An excellent night on the glass and a double-double from Julian Phillips led the seventh-ranked Tennessee Vols basketball team to an 84-49 victory over Eastern Kentucky Wednesday night at Thompson-Boling Arena.
The Vols (8-1) dominated in the second half and owned the glass throughout the game, out-rebounding EKU (4-5) 56-40, marking Tennessee’s highest rebound total of the Barnes era and UT’s highest tally since November 8th, 2008, when it logged 58 against UT Martin. Most impressively, 20 came on the offensive side, which the Big Orange turned into 25 second-chance points.
Phillips shined for the Vols, posting 16 points and 10 rebounds for the first double-double of his collegiate career. The true freshman spread his boards evenly on both sides of the floor, pulling down five offensive and five defensive rebounds.
On the offensive side, Phillips’ night was matched by Tyreke Key, who led the squad with 17 points and a perfect 7-for-7 night at the free-throw line to tie his UT career-high for scoring.
Three days after the Vols had six double-digit scorers in a win over Alcorn State, the Orange & White spread the wealth with a similar level of skill against the Colonels, as Uros Plavsic and Zakai Zeigler chipped in 13 points each, while Olivier Nkamhoua finished with a loud 10 points, throwing down a pair of hammering dunks early in the second half to set the tone for the final 20 minutes.
Nkamhoua added eight boards and swatted away a career-high-tying three EKU shots to lead the team, which as a unit blocked eight total tries. Zeigler, meanwhile, had four of the team’s 11 steals, marking his sixth game in a row with multiple steals. The defense clamped the Colonels down all night, allowing just 6-of-35 shooting (17.1 percent) from deep and 15-of-68 (22.1 percent) total –the second-lowest opponent field-goal percentage of the Barnes era.
That defensive success, especially from beyond the arc, has been on full display in the Vols’ last four games. Starting with the championship of the Battle 4 Atlantis against then-No. 3 Kansas, UT opponents have shot 14-of-89 (15.7 percent) from 3-point range as Tennessee limited Kansas to 5-of-21, McNeese State to 2-of-17 and Alcorn State to 1-of-16 before tonight’s shutdown performance.
In the first half, the story was largely Tennessee’s ability to crash the glass on both ends, but specifically the offensive side. The Vols keyed in on their height advantage to pull down 13 offensive boards and turned that into 14 second-chance points, compared to EKU’s one.
Each of UT’s eight players to take the floor scored in the period, led by Phillips, who contributed eight points in the half. He also added eight rebounds and set himself up for his first career double-double, which came halfway through the second half. At the end of the first half, Tennessee led 32-21.
Sparked by Key, the Vols turned up the heat to start the second half. Tennessee started the period on a 10-0 run, with Key accounting for eight of those points on an and-one, a layup and a corner three. The hot start lasted the duration of the period, as UT posted 52 points, its most in any half this season. The Vols shot 61.5 percent for the half and went to the line 24 times, knocking down 17 of their attempts from the charity stripe.
Ice, Ice Baby
Tennessee held Eastern Kentucky to just 22.1 percent shooting (15-for-68) on the evening, the second-lowest mark by an opponent during the Rick Barnes era and lowest since Nov. 6, 2018–when Lenoir-Rhyne shot 20.9 percent from the field.
It marks the seventh time this season that the UT Vols have held an opponent under 33 percent shooting.
Tennessee extended its home win streak to 22 games with Sunday’s victory—a streak that dates to March 7th, 2021. The Vols’ current home win streak is the sixth-longest in program history.
Tennessee has also won 19 straight home games against non-conference opponents.
Buckets Ain’t Coming Easy
Tennessee has now held its opponent under the 1.000 points-per-possession mark in eight of nine games this season, going undefeated when doing so.
The Vols held Eastern Kentucky to .671 ppp on Wednesday—the third-fewest points per possession that Tennessee has allowed in a game this season.
Next Up For UT Men’s Basketball
The Tennessee Vols basketball team heads to the Big Apple to take on No. 13 Maryland in Brooklyn, New York, on Sunday at 3:30pm CT in the Hall of Fame Invitational at Barclays Center. The game will be broadcast on FS1.