A dominant defensive effort and an efficient shooting mark of .500 (27-54) from the field pushed the seventh-ranked Tennessee basketball team past 12th-ranked Missouri, 73-53, to open SEC play Wednesday.
The Vols (7-0, 1-0 SEC) held Missouri (6-1, 0-1 SEC) to just .364 shooting from the field and forced 21 turnovers on the defensive end.
UT is also off to its best start since 2010-11, when that season’s squad also began the year 7-0.
Sophomore Santiago Vescovi led UT in scoring, pouring in a game-high 15 points on 5-of-6 shooting and a 3-of-4 mark from 3-point range.
National Defensive Player of the Year candidate Yves Pons put on an impressive, versatile performance, totaling 13 points, six rebounds, a season-high four blocks and two steals.
Freshman Jaden Springer also scored 13 points while grabbing four rebounds and nabbing a season-high three steals off the bench for the Vols.
Senior John Fulkerson was the fourth Vol to reach double-figures, scoring 11 points and pulling down six rebounds.
Sophomore Josiah-Jordan James—despite scoring just two points—was all over the stat sheet, grabbing three offensive rebounds, dishing off a game-high four assists, tallying a career-high-tying three steals and recording a blocked shot. James posted a game-high-tying plus/minus rating of +25.
The Vols came roaring out of the gates, knocking down their first seven shot attempts en route to a commanding 21-4 lead at the under-12 media timeout.
Tennessee withstood each counter punch from the Tigers, extending its first-half lead to as many as 19, heading into the halftime break with a 38-25 advantage.
UT came out of the break with much of the same energy, continuing its stifling defensive effort and efficient night from the field on offense throughout the second half to walk away with the 20-point victory.
Yves Pons rejected a season-high four shot attempts, increasing his career blocks total to 101. The reigning SEC Defensive Player of the Year is just six blocks away from breaking into the top 15 on Tennessee’s career blocks list.