USI pretty much got what it expected Thursday night playing Tennessee in an exhibition game. The Volunteers won by 31 points and dominated the boards (56-37), and their long arms, quick hands and speed messed up USI’s offense (the Eagles were 0-for-11 from 3-point range and 20-for-57 for the game overall from the field).
But the Eagles’ defense proved to be much better than anticipated. Or was it? Tennessee shot just 36.4 percent from the field. But, watching the live stream of the game, I have to say that the Vols often just threw up shots when they were open — no matter how bad the shot — rather than working for better shots, and that had nothing to do with USI’s defense. A team that wins 78-47 doesn’t need to take 21 3-point shots, and if it does it should make more than three of them. USI also forced just five turnovers and had only two steals. Really, this was what everyone should expect when a Division II team — even a highly regarded team like USI — meets a D-I school.
USI did improve its transition defense, with Tennessee outscoring the Eagles just 10-6 on fast-break points. Then again, the Vols didn’t seem to have their hearts in the game after they jumped out to a large lead early. If I were Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin, I would not be happy with the occasional lackadaisical play from his team. They won’t get away with that against Kentucky.
Two good things came out of the game for USI: the play of newcomers Gavin Schumann and Alex Marzette. Both seemed to attack the basket much better than they did against Indiana. Both have a natural quickness and elusiveness that should drive GLVC teams nuts when they try to guard them. And Schumann looks like he won’t have a conscience when it comes to shooting, and that can be a very good thing. Final totals: Marzette, 7 points on 3-for-5 shooting along with 5 rebounds in 17 minutes; Schumann, 8 points on 4-for-7 shooting along with 3 assists in 17 minutes.
Finally, some quotes on USI, courtesy of Tennessee’s sports information department, from Volunteers coach Cuonzo Martin (who, by the way, I covered when he starred for Purdue 20 years ago and was never, ever this voluble when reporters asked him questions — go figure): “They get physical and they crash the glass, but I mean, that’s one of our strengths — being physical. That’s one reason we wanted to play those guys. They do have big guys and the advantage of pounding the ball inside. They execute the offense. If Lawrence (Thomas, USI’s point guard) doesn’t have anything in transition, they run the offense. You have to be aggressive on their cuts — bumping them, being physical. They go high, low with their big guys. I thought we did a solid job of that.”