Hoops Preview: #9 Tennessee at Texas A&M

Olivier Nkamhoua – Vols F / Credit: UT Athletics

BRYAN-COLLEGE STATION, Tx. – The ninth-ranked Tennessee basketball team returns to action for a road matchup with Texas A&M on Saturday afternoon. Tipoff from Reed Arena is slated for 2 p.m. ET on ESPN2.

Fans can catch Saturday’s game on ESPN2 and online or on any mobile device through WatchESPN. WatchESPN can be accessed through the ESPN App, or online at espn.com/watch. Karl Ravech and Jimmy Dykes will have the call.

Fans can also listen live on their local Vol Network affiliate to hear Bob Kesling and Bert Bertlekamp describing the action.

Last time out, UT needed a second half rally to push past Arkansas on Wednesday, 79-74. The Vols were led in scoring by junior Victor Bailey Jr. and a career outing from sophomore Josiah-Jordan James who poured in 17 points apiece.

Senior John Fulkerson was all over the stat sheet in the win, dropping in 16 points, grabbing eight rebounds, blocking three shots and dishing off a trio of assists.

A victory on Saturday would preserve the Vols perfect road record this season, while leaving head coach Rick Barnes just one win shy of tying Phog Allen and Don Haskins for 20th on the all-time Division I wins list.

Up next, the Vols will remain on the road, when they head south for a Tuesday night matchup with South Carolina. Tipoff from Columbia is slated for 7 p.m. ET on ESPN2.

THE SERIES
• Tennessee leads its all-time series with Texas A&M, 8-6, dating to 1951. The Aggies joined the SEC for the 2012-13 season.
• The Aggies won last season’s lone meeting, 63-58, in Knoxville. It was the first head-to-head coaching matchup between Rick Barnes and Buzz Williams.
• Tennessee holds a 3-2 advantage when the series is contested in Bryan-College Station and has won the last two meetings at Reed Arena. The last time Tennessee visited Reed Arena, the Vols were the nation’s top-ranked team (Feb. 2, 2019).

A WIN WOULD…
• Leave Rick Barnes one win shy of tying Phog Allen and Don Haskins for 20th on the all-time Division I wins list.
• Preserve the Vols’ perfect record on the road this season.

LAYUP LINES
• Rick Barnes once interviewed Aggies head coach Buzz Williams for an assistant coach position during Barnes’ tenure as the head coach at Texas.
• Senior John Fulkerson was named to the Wooden Award’s Midseason Top-25 List Wednesday.
• In the second half of the Arkansas win, Fulkerson totaled 12 points, five rebounds, three assists and no turnovers.
• Five-star freshman Keon Johnson made the first start of his career Wednesday vs. Arkansas and scored a season-high 14 points. He was 6-for-6 from the foul line in the game’s final two minutes.
• Santiago Vescovi’s 2.2 assist/turnover ratio is the best in the SEC.
• Overall this season, Tennessee leads the SEC in five team statistical categories, including scoring defense, scoring margin, turnovers per game, turnover margin and assist/turnover ratio.

DEFENSE WINS
• Tennessee ranks fourth in the NCAA in scoring defense, allowing just 57.1 points per game.
• According to KenPom, the Vols rank second in the NCAA in adjusted defensive efficiency, allowing only 87.0 points per 100 possessions so far this season. College teams average close to 70 possessions per game.
• The Vols are forcing 17.7 turnovers per game while converting those turnovers into 19.3 points per game. Tennessee’s turnover margin stands at +7.8 (second nationally).
• UT leads the nation in percentage of two-point field goals blocked on defense (18 percent).
• Tennessee has yet to allow an opposing player to score 20 points this season.
• Reigning SEC Defensive Player of the Year Yves Pons has an incredible 13 blocks through UT’s first three SEC games.
• Pons has 93 blocks in his last 40 games.

ABOUT TEXAS A&M
• After struggling through non-conference play to start last season, Texas A&M began to piece things together during SEC play, recovering to finish 10-8 in league play and in the top half of the conference standings. Through nine games this season, the Aggies sit at 6-3 and 1-2 in the SEC after dropping conference contests to LSU and South Carolina.
• Second-year head coach Buzz Williams aims to build off the momentum built toward the end of last season, as he has five of his top seven scorers from last season returning.
• One of those returners is sophomore forward Emanuel Miller. In eight played games, Miller has been a force in both scoring and on the glass, holding the team lead in points with 18.5 per contest, and rebounds, hauling in 8.3 boards per game. His 18.5 points per game are more than a 12-point jump from the 6.4 he averaged as a freshman last season.
• Senior guard Quenton Jackson has also upped his scoring production from last season, ranking second on the team with 12.1 points per game, an increase of more than three points per game.
• Joining Jackson in the backcourt is guard Andre Gordon. Gordon ranks third on the team in scoring (8.9 ppg) and first in assists. In the Aggies’ most recent victory last Saturday against Auburn, Gordon knocked down the game-winning shot with just under a second to play, to down the Tigers, 68-66.
• Bryan-College Station, where Texas A&M University is located, is a metropolitan area centering on the twin cities of Bryan and College Station in the Brazos Valley region of Texas. The estimated 2019 population of the three-country metro area was 273,101.

LAST MEETING WITH TEXAS A&M
•  Despite four Vols scoring in double figures, Tennessee fell to Texas A&M, 63-58, on Jan. 28, 2020, in Thompson-Boling Arena. The contest featured seven lead changes and 10 blocks by UT.
•  John Fulkerson led the Vols with 15 points and a team-high six rebounds. Jordan Bowden was right behind him with 13 points, followed by Yves Pons and Santiago Vescovi, who each scored 10.
•  The Aggies were paced by freshman Wendell Mitchell, who recorded 23 points on the night. The Big Orange held Texas A&M to a 30.4 percent shooting percentage and forced 14 turnovers, but the Aggies’ 46-21 advantage in rebounding and 16 second-chance points were enough for them to overcome any offensive shortcomings.
•  Both teams started slow offensively, but Tennessee went on a 5-0 run to gain its largest lead of the opening half at 14-6. The Aggies then went on an 8-0 run to tie the game at 14-14,  but the Vols responded with back-to-back dunks from Pons and Josiah-Jordan James to put UT up by four, 18-14.
•  But A&M closed the first half strong and managed to take a 25-24 lead into the break.
•  The Big Orange scored the first eight points of the second half, with three free throws from Vescovi, a 3-pointer from Pons and a lay-in from Fulkerson to put Tennessee on top again, 32-25.
•  Fulkerson scored the next seven points for UT, but the Aggies kept things close.
•  Texas A&M went on their second 8-0 run of the night later in the second half, taking the lead, 40-39, with just over than 10 minutes left to play. Bowden ended a UT scoring drought with a momentum-shifting dunk, giving Tennessee the lead back yet again.
•  With less than a minute left in regulation, Bowden delivered a clutch 3-pointer, tying the game at 53-53.
•  But the Aggies responded with a triple of their own when Mitchell hit from beyond the arc—a shot that proved to be the game-winner.

IF IT WEREN’T FOR TENNESSEE, TEXAS WOULD BE “NORTH MEXICO”
• There can be no doubt Texas owes a great debt of gratitude for its statehood to the fierce men from Tennessee.
• Before the Alamo fell, 33 Tennesseans, the largest number of defenders provided by any state—nearly four times as many as from Texas—kept Mexican General Santa Anna’s overwhelming army at bay for 13 days against unbelievable odds.
• On March 6, 1836, the brave Tennessee Volunteers and the other Alamo defenders were overrun and breathed their last.
• However, the crucial days the Volunteers slowed down the Mexican army gave another Tennessean, Sam Houston, enough time to gallop through Texas raising an army to defend what would become the Lone Star State. This army defeated Santa Anna in no small part because of the contributions of Tennessee’s Volunteers.

MEMORABLE VOL PERFORMANCES AGAINST TEXAS A&M
• Grant Williams tied Tennessee’s all-time, single-game record for blocked shots with six in UT’s 2018 win over the Aggies in College Station. He also added 12 points and five rebounds in the victory.
• In the longest game in Tennessee basketball history, the Vols posted an epic 93-85 four-overtime win at Texas A&M Feb. 23, 2013, in the first game between the teams as conference foes. Trae Golden tallied 32 points for the Vols, while Jarnell Stokes totaled 20 points and 16 rebounds, and Jordan McRae scored 23.
• Tony White posted the highest points total by a Vol in the series when he scored 34 vs. the Aggies in an 88-70 UT home win on Dec. 7, 1985.
• Herb Neff (13 pts, 14 rebs) and Charlie Hipsher (11 pts, 12 rebs) each logged double-doubles for Tennessee as the Vols downed Texas A&M 60-52 in the first-ever meeting between the programs on Dec. 15, 1951, in Knoxville.
• Houston native Brandon Crump averaged 16.0 points, 9.0 rebounds and 2.0 blocks in two career games against the Aggies.

BARNES VERY FAMILIAR WITH A&M
• As a head coach, Rick Barnes has faced Texas A&M 37 times, compiling a 29-8 (.784) record.
• His Texas teams went 23-7 vs. the Aggies from 1999-2015, and he also led Clemson to a 2-0 record against A&M in the mid-90s.
• The only teams Barnes has faced more than the Aggies are Oklahoma (41 meetings), Oklahoma State (40) and Baylor (39).

AGGIES KNOW ENGLISH
• As a college star at Missouri from 2008-12, Vols assistant coach Kim English faced Texas A&M six times. He averaged 11.3 points in those six games, but his Tigers only won twice.

20 ELUSIVE FOR OPPOSING SCORERS
• Through 1,800 minutes of basketball this season, no Tennessee opponent has managed to score 20 points.
• Only three opposing scorers have scored more than 15 points—J.D. Notae (Arkansas) scored 19, Tommy Bruner (USC Upstate) scored 18 and John Petty Jr. (Alabama) scored 17.
• Tennessee’s opponents’ top scorer this season averages 14.3 ppg.

-UT Athletics

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