Here’s what Tennessee coach Rick Barnes had to say after Tennessee defeated #24 South Carolina 78-69 at Thompson-Boling Arena Saturday afternoon. UT handed SC only it’s second loss of the season. The Vols improved to 10-9, 3-4 SEC.
Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes
“Best 40 minutes of defense we have played all year. The thing as a staff we were most pleased with would be the fact we responded mentally after the way we played the other night. I thought we came out with the kind of focus we have to have.
“I know our players have great respect for South Carolina after watching them on tape and how hard they play. Actually, talked about understanding how it hard it is to play like that, and we have to match it. I thought our guys really tried as hard as they have all year it terms of really trying to stay focused.
“The second half we got going, and KP (Kevin Punter Jr.) was phenomenal. When he got in the flow, you could just see it. He was totally in control of what he wanted to do.
“A great team win. A lot of guys did a lot of good things for us. We had to work through some foul trouble and work through a team that is hard to play against.”
(On coming off the tough loss and bringing a lot of energy today)
“They were very disappointed. We spent a long time in the film room the other day. We never got into the second half. I’m not sure we got past the eight-minute mark. We were just very lethargic. We weren’t playing, weren’t giving ourselves a chance, but tonight, from the beginning, there was a different pulse with them, a different attitude. And we told them, ‘We’ve talked about it long enough.’ All I really said to them before the game after Coach “Rob) Lanier finished the scout was, ‘We’ve talked about it long enough. Let’s see if we are going to back up some of the things you guys talk about in the film room.’ I thought they were really talking to each other, communicating. And we have to have that, I think everyone knows that. The mental part of it was really encouraging today.”
(On hitting so many free throws in the second half)
“Well one thing South Carolina does a great job with, and I think teams that really understand winning do, they normally make more free throws than their opponents shoot. We were hoping we could at least match it, stay with them there. It’s a little skewed, we shot 32, but some of those came late when they were fouling. But the fact is, we did a great job on the free throw line. Really, they rebounded the ball and we knew that– we felt that would be a huge factor in the game, when the ball gets up on the glass. We actually said that’s when the game’s really going to start. They run their offense, and we run ours. Who’s going to go get some of those extra touches. They out-rebounded us on the offensive board, 16-11. They do a lot of things that, as a coach, you admire watching them play because it’s not easy to get guys to buy into it. Frank (Martin) has done a great job. He’s always done a great job getting his guys to do those things.”
(On defense near the end of the game)
“Everything we do as a team, we have to do as a team. I do think Armani (Moore) really set a great tone for us. I thought his energy, his intensity on the defensive end was really key. I thought Devon Baulkman played his best defensive game. He got out there and got aggressive. It only takes a couple guys to really pick you up. Kevin Punter, defensively, you look at him, he had four steals. Armani had five. He got active away from the ball. He did a really nice job. They work really hard at trying to hit you in that high-percentage area right below the foul line. They really work hard at getting it there. I thought we were doing a pretty good job of trying to jump in there and help each other. We switch a lot. We do different things. I thought our guys paid a lot of attention to the scouting report today, which we didn’t the other night. I thought they handled some of the personal assignments that we asked them to do in terms of how to play certain guys.”
(On the team responding to you challenging them)
“I’ve said all along, I really like this team. We’re hard on them. We expect a lot. We’ve never used that term ‘rebuilding.’ We’ve never said anything about that. I told them the other day, ‘You don’t play transition defense, you give up easy baskets, you don’t listen to the scouting report.’ We weren’t focused. I’ve talked a lot about that. Prior to the Vanderbilt game was probably the most I’ve gotten on guys where I felt like they just weren’t on the edge. I said to them, ‘ You can lose games the day before the game. I don’t know how we can ever think that we can just show up and play.’ We’ve been very honest with them, we don’t have a lot of room for error. One thing that can be non-negotiable is effort. I think it’s a real compliment to them, and maybe it’s a thing of learning to play the game. I’ve always felt that hard work was a talent because most players don’t really understand how hard you work. When you get (a player) that really works at it and plays the game hard, it’s special when you see a guy do that. I think Armani, and again he’s adjusting to a different role right now, but he was key today with a lot of good things. He’s still a competitor. He turned the ball over some and got caught up a little bit when we should have worked it in. But I just think this group of guys, they respect each other. All I said to them after the game really was, let’s see what we’ll learn from this game and keep moving forward.”
(On his approach to the game)
“We kind of did a different set where we had two guys out front and two guys along the block area. We had a runner going back and forth and we knew they were going to continue applying pressure. We tried to drive up the floor a little bit more because they challenged a lot of passes. When guys get pressured sometimes they handle it and sometimes they don’t. I think in the second half Detrick (Mostella) got going and so did KP. We wanted to go through (Robert Hubbs III) a little bit, so this team is really learning how to make adjustments throughout the game. That’s something that we weren’t able to do earlier but they’re getting better at that.“
(On playing against a physical team)
“I knew it would be like that. We tried to explain that to our guys as much as we could. We knew it was going to be very physical, if we were going to accept the challenge of playing as hard as they play. They play really hard and they don’t stop playing hard. I said to the team during the first half that if we would respond and try to be as intense and work as hard as they do, both teams would have a hard time scoring in different ways. We knew they would stretch a little bit and run through the passing lanes but we tried to keep it as tight as we can. Honestly, that’s what I thought it would look like and I told the team at halftime to keep defending and move the ball and we’ll break loose and make some shots.”
(On South Carolina being a Frank Martin team)
“I love Frank Martin because he’s just going to line up and say this is who we are, this is what we do. I think any coach who can get a team to play as hard as he does is amazing. I don’t care where he’s been, I can tell you that when we had to go into Kansas State to play it was unbelievable. Every game is going to be like that, whomever he plays, they’re going to do what they do and they’re going to do it well. He’s done a great job at South Carolina. I’m not sure what people thought, but I remember telling people that I knew in South Carolina that ‘You guys have no idea how great of a basketball coach you guys have got.’ He’s going to play a style that if you love a guy that brings his lunch bucket everyday then you’re going to get one. He’s intense and his players love him. His players love playing for him and I can tell you through years of talking to guys that have been around him. He’s certainly one of the most respected players in the business I can tell you that. Everybody knows that it’s not going to be easy. It’s like going to the dentist with no Novocain and that’s what it’s like when you go up against one of his teams.”
(On the challenge of playing against South Carolina)
“We knew when we ran our offense that we were going to have to make multiple cuts. They do a great job of running off your cuts and they’re going to challenge every cut. They’re going to challenge you if you don’t more than one cut. When didn’t read the screen well and I saw Kevin was dribbling the ball too much. We decided to take him off the ball and let Armani handle the ball. We wanted him to see it and he does see it, but we wanted Kevin to try and move without it. Defensively, he was the best he’s been but he had to really work because guys weren’t getting open for him. He was just dribbling and trying to make some things happen and that’s tough. He got back in the flow with our transition game and you could just tell. We were talking on the bench and I said to the coaches, ‘He’s got it right now,’ and you could tell that he had control of what we needed to be doing.”
(On the minutes he got from forwards Kyle Alexander and Ray Kasongo)
“I think (Alexander) played eight minutes and got six rebounds. When we go zone he’s a guy that brings length in there. I thought Ray’s minutes were good; he did some good things. It’s hard to not foul, they’re very aggressive and they come at you. It’s really hard to not foul them because they do a great job, they’re a very disciplined team and they stay with it. They’ll put you in the long possessions and I thought defensively that we stayed with it maybe as long as we have the whole year.“
(On selecting particular matchups)
“We had so many guys in and out of the game. We did have different match ups and we switched. We switch and scramble. Some days guys just don’t make shots and it’s not their fault, things just don’t go their way.“