KNOXVILLE – The Vols wrapped up the preseason 2-0 with a 78-47 win over visiting Southern Indiana, a Division II squad, on Thursday night at Thompson-Boling Arena.
Consider it a final dress rehearsal for the regular season.
The Vols normally start off the season with a less-than-formidable opponent. Not this year. Tennessee opens at Xavier next Tuesday night in Cincinnati. Thursday was the final chance to work out any wrinkles in a live game setting before challenging the Musketeers in a game that counts.
“We’ve had two warm-up games, so I think we’re ready,” said guard Josh Richardson. “I don’t think we’ll have too many growing pains [as the regular season starts].”
There were, however, a few things the Vols will want to work on before the brighter lights of the regular season come on. Shooting, for instance, was clearly still in preseason form. The Vols hit just 28 of 77 (36 percent) from the field and only 3 of 21 (14 percent) from behind the arc. Guard Jordan McRae, who lead the team with 15 points, connected on just 4 of 16 from the field and 1 of 6 from 3-point range.
“Thought we had good looks in the first half, but didn’t shoot it well,” said coach Cuonzo Martin.
But when a team dominates the rebounding battle like Tennessee did on Thursday, those missed shots become a little more forgivable. The Vols held a 56-37 edge on the glass with a commanding 26-10 advantage on the offensive end. No individual had more than seven boards, but every player who saw significant action had at least two.
The starting backcourt of Darius Thompson, Jordan McRae and Josh Richardson accounted for a combined total of 14 rebounds.
"I thought we did a good job as a team really attacking the offensive glass,” Martin said. “They are a physical team. They like to send three or four guys to the glass and I thought we did a really good job for us attacking the offensive glass especially when Jarnell [Stokes] went out because he is one of the key guys as well as Jeronne [Maymon].
“I thought the guards did a really good job crashing the glass and keeping those offensive rebounds alive.”
Tennessee also cleaned up the turnover issue that plagued the Vols in their first exhibition. They committed 17 turnovers against Florida Southern last Saturday. UT cut that number down to just five on Thursday, while forcing 17 and scoring 26 points off of those Southern Indiana errors.
Slimmer Ndiaye gets his chance: Junior center Rawane “Pops” Ndiaye, a JUCO transfer, got some extended minutes in the first half when Stokes went to the bench with two early fouls.
Martin was pleased from the production he got from the reserve post player, who is down to 280 pounds after enrolling at UT closer to 300.
“He's gotten better,” Martin said of Ndiaye, who scored seven points and grabbed seven rebounds. “He's one of those guys that's really improved from the start of practice up until this point."
• Redshirt sophomore Quinton Chievous was the only healthy scholarship player who didn’t get in the game. Martin didn’t give any specific on why other than saying that he needs to continue to work.
• Freshman Darius Thompson started in place of Antonio Barton at the point. Barton (ankle) is expected to return to practice on Saturday and is probable for the opener at Xavier.
Daniel Lewis covers Tennessee athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @DanielNooga