Dan Fleser: Mashack, Key May See More Playing Time For Vols

  • Monday, February 6, 2023
  • Dan Fleser
Dan Fleser
Dan Fleser

Before further review, Rick Barnes was quite certain of something he would find when looking back through Tennessee’s 46-43 SEC basketball victory over Auburn.

Saturday’s game is commonly referred to these days as a rock fight. The teams combined to miss 88 of 118 field goal attempts. Rather than punch the delete button on the video, the Vols’ coach sounded as if he wanted to sort through the remains for affirmation of his specific thought regarding UT guard Jahmai Mashack.

“I guarantee you,” Barnes said. “When I go back and start watching the tape . . . I’m going to say ‘why don’t I play him more.’ ’’

O.K. but there wasn’t much to see regarding the 6-foot-4 sophomore. He played just seven minutes. His stat line read four points, three rebounds (all offensive boards) and two fouls.

Mashack’s first basket came on a putback of one of those rebounds midway through the first half. It came about a minute after a missed layup and three minutes after a missed jumper from close range. He did fetch the rebound of that miss.

He re-entered the game five minutes after halftime and hit a jumper within the first minute. He later snagged Santiago Vescovi’s missed 3-pointer but failed to convert the putback attempt. Mashack’s day ended with 11 minutes, 58 seconds left.

Despite scant opportunity, Barnes was certain about gathering more evidence of the hard-nosed, tough-mindedness he values in Mashack. The quality has convinced Barnes he should find more minutes for him.

The rocky nature of Saturday’s game likely influenced the coach’s thinking as well. The game was won with a whole lot of hard-nosed toughness. Defense sustained the Vols’ perseverance. Rebounding afforded them a crucial edge in second-chance points.

Despite dropping four spots in the Associated Press’ weekly top 25 poll, No. 6 Tennessee (19-4, 8-2 SEC) is as good or better at this sort of dirty work than just about any team in the country. There's plenty of statistical evidence to support that view. More minutes for Mashack would be adding to their obvious strengths. It would be like a champion weightlifter doing a few more reps.

But you still must make more shots than the other team, too. The skill involves a different kind of toughness. It’s no less important, though, particularly during the maddening days of March that now loom.

After talking about Mashack during Saturday’s postgame radio interview, Barnes also mentioned fellow guard Tyreke Key, specifically saying: “We’ve got to get Tyreke going again, when he will just shoot the ball.”

Key, a 6-2 transfer from Indiana State, has demonstrated a knack for long-range shooting. Among the Vols who are logging meaningful minutes, he is third in 3-pointers made (32) and second in accuracy (34.4 percent)

Against Auburn, Key played eight minutes and took two shots, connecting on a jumper for his only basket. He missed his lone 3-point attempt. Overall, UT was 2-for-21 from behind the arc

Barnes ought to be seeing more shots from Key because the team also needs more of what he does best. Guaranteed.  

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Dan Fleser is a 1980 graduate of the University of Missouri, who has covered University of Tennessee athletics since 1988. He is a 2022 inductee to the Tennessee Sportswriters Hall of Fame. He can be reached at danfleser3@gmail.com.

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