KNOXVILLE — Senior guards Lamonte Turner and Jordan Bowden will ultimately dictate Tennessee’s success this season, but the Vols extended their home winning streak to 27 games despite them Tuesday.
A combination of turnovers and poor shot selection from its two leaders slowed UT in the opening period before it turned it around after halftime en route to a 78-63 season-opening victory over UNC-Asheville.
“We’re counting on Lamonte Turner and Jordan Bowden to do a lot for us, and they’re turning the ball over way too much and the shot selection is not what we want it to be,” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said. “If you look at our post guy’s numbers, it’s obvious that they need to touch the ball more.
“I think it’s up to Jordan and Lamonte to realize that we have new pieces we have to put together and fit into what we’re doing, and it’s up to them to do that. … (Those other guys) can’t be sitting around watching those two play and turn the ball over because they’re trying to do too much.”
Turner and Bowden combined for 27 points on 44.4% shooting (12-for-27) and 10 turnovers. They also registered 10 turnovers in last week’s exhibition victory over Eastern New Mexico but mitigated the damage by totaling 45 points while shooting 57.7% (15-for-26) from the floor.
Seven of their turnovers came in the first half, and the Vols (1-0) gave it away 12 times overall in the opening period.
The Bulldogs (0-1) converted those miscues into 11 points and entered the intermission trailing by 12 points despite shooting 31.3% from the floor.
“I thought during the scrimmage (against Davidson) and the exhibition we did have the jitters, and I just told everybody that if they would get lost in their teammates, that’d settle down,” Barnes said. “Just look at your teammates and say, ‘I’m going to take care of you,’ as opposed to thinking, ‘I have to go score.’
“Last game, there was no doubt that everybody felt like they had to score, and you expect a little bit of that.”
UT opened the final period with 15-3 run, and it built its lead to as much 25 points before UNC-Asheville reeled off a 12-2 run over the three minutes, 14 seconds in part because of a Tennessee lineup that “could not do the things we were practicing.”
The Vols’ questioned frontcourt stepped up amid Turner and Bowden’s struggles.
Junior forward Yves Pons, who made the transition from wing to power forward this offseason, scored 15 points on 6-of-8 shooting while grabbing seven rebounds. Redshirt junior John Fulkerson tallied 10 points and nine rebounds before putting himself on the bench because of a slight groin pull that has kept him out of practice the past few days.
Freshman Olivier Nkamhoua recorded seven points and seven rebounds in his debut.
It proved to be enough against UNC-Asheville, but UT needs its backcourt tandem to get it together sooner rather than later.
“Do I think they are going to play perfect? I don’t. Do I expect them to do better than they have done to this point in taking care of the ball? Absolutely,” Barnes said. “The chemistry on this team and in the locker room is as good as any we have had since we have been here and it is because of those two guys.”