KNOXVILLE – Down 12 points late in the first half, Tennessee still had a shot against Murray State on Tuesday night.
In proving that point, the Vols’ stirring second-half comeback centered largely on shooting: the shots they made and the ones they thwarted in winning 82-63 before an announced crowd of 16,913 at Thompson-Boling Arena.
Twenty-one of the game’s 52 baskets were scored from long range. The Racers bolted to their early advantage by making eight of their nine 3-pointers. Tevin Brown’s trey 1 minute, 41 seconds before halftime pushed their advantage to 40-28.
The Vols’ rally was led by Jordan Bowden’s marksmanship. After being limited by foul trouble before halftime, the senior guard struck for 19 of his game-high 26 points and five of his six 3-pointers in the final 20 minutes. His trey from deep in the corner gave Tennessee the lead for good at 59-58 with 10:33 left.
Bowden’s final two 3-pointers came during UT’s 16-point finishing kick of a scoring run.
“If there’s one thing you have to do, it’s to stay aggressive to help our team win,” Bowden said of making tough shots. “That’s one thing that I did tonight and I have to continue to do that moving forward. It feels weird sometimes, because at this time last year, it was kind of an iffy shot, but now I have to take those types of shots and not feel bad about it.”
Another example of the shooting difference a year makes for Tennessee (2-0) is forward Yves Pons. The junior forward followed up on his career-high 15 points in the opener against UNC Asheville by setting his personal standard even higher with 19 against Murray State. He scored 13 of his points, including all three of his 3-pointers, in the first half, enabling UT to stay within striking distance.
Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said afterward that Pons hadn’t practiced the past two days after he “tweaked his back” on Sunday.
“He didn’t do anything for two days and maybe that’s the formula for him,” Barnes said jokingly.
Seriously, Pons’ formula has been hard work. He’s spent extra time putting up extra shots and it’s paying off. Barnes said that Pons, not Bowden, has been UT’s best 3-point shooter since the Vols started keeping stats in preseason workouts.
“Every day I’m working on it, so I feel comfortable shooting,” Pons said. “And I’ll take every open shot I can get.”
Likewise, Bowden and Turner showed their comfort in serving as Tennessee’s leaders. They played their parts in helping shut down Murray State shooters Brown and Jaiveon Eaves. They combined for six 3-pointers in the first half but only produced one by Brown thereafter.
UT’s senior duo responded to Barnes’ admonishment over turnovers by combining for zero. Turner covered for his 2-for-12 shooting by recording 14 assists. He was a one-man catalyst for an offense that’s still lacking cohesion and flow.
“Coach Barnes has been working with me for four years now on doing other things besides scoring, mentally just being a point guard and kind of just trying to be poised when things don’t go my way,” Turner said. “I think tonight was a big testament to that, and how much work him and I have put in to help me control the game when things aren’t really flowing and to just keep going.”
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Dan Fleser is a 1980 graduate of the University of Missouri who covered University of Tennessee athletics for the Knoxville News Sentinel from 1988-2019. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.