Tennessee basketball rides defense to 76-40 win against McNeese State

Tennessee basketball returned to Knoxville playing the same level defense it deployed in the Bahamas. That was bad news for McNeese State, Wednesday's unfortunate recipient of the nation's top-ranked defense.

The No. 13 Vols (6-1) easily dispatched the Cowboys (2-6) in a 76-40 victory at Thompson-Boling Arena, the fourth time in the past five games Tennessee held an opponent to 50 points or fewer.

“You can always impact the game," Vols coach Rick Barnes said. "You always can by doing your job, the details, creating something. Defensively, you should never have an off night defensively. Ever. That’s just mental toughness and paying attention to a scouting report coming in."

Santiago Vescovi led Tennessee with 16 points. He made four 3-pointers. The Vols had 21 assists on 23 made field goals.

All about that defense

Tennessee blitzed through the Battle 4 Atlantis with its defense, holding Butler to 45 points in its opener and holding then-No. 3 Kansas to 50 points in the title game. It also held Florida Gulf Coast to 50 points prior to the Battle 4 Atlantis.

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The Vols kept rolling defensively Wednesday, but Barnes stressed improvement.

"The defensive mentality that we’ve had, we’ve still got to get better," Barnes said. "I will tell you that. I could tell you 18 offensive rebounds means there were 18 possessions where we didn’t finish it. So we’ve got to obviously clean that up.”

McNeese State was 16-for-56 shooting and 2-for-17 on 3-pointers. UT held McNeese State to 14 first-half points. The Cowboys were 6-for-26 shooting and missed all seven 3-pointers before halftime.

UT forced 24 turnovers and blocked eight shots. Jonas Aidoo had a career-high five blocks.

The Vols have held five teams to 50 points or fewer through seven games. Tennessee's record for fewest points allowed under Barnes is 36, which it allowed to UNC Greensboro on Dec. 12, 2021.

Tennessee struggled at the free-throw line

Aidoo missed Tennessee’s first free throw Wednesday. He made the second attempt with 13:19 to play in the first half, but Tennessee kept struggling at the line.

It finished 19 of 34 at the free-throw line after going 9 of 18 in the first half. UT was shooting 77.2% at the free-throw line through six games.

Josiah-Jordan James out again with injury

Josiah-Jordan James did not play for the fourth straight game. The senior guard is dealing with knee soreness, which kept him out of the Battle 4 Atlantis.

Barnes has indicated that James will choose when he feels comfortable returning. The senior guard leads UT with 13.7 points per game while shooting 52.7% on 3-pointers. He has played 23.3 minutes per game.

Up next

Tennessee faces Alcorn State on Sunday (6 p.m. ET, SEC Network+).

Mike Wilson covers University of Tennessee athletics. Email him at michael.wilson@knoxnews.com and follow him on Twitter @ByMikeWilson. If you enjoy Mike’s coverage, consider a digital subscription that will allow you access to all of it.

This article originally appeared on Knoxville News Sentinel: Tennessee basketball rides defense to 76-40 win against McNeese State