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No. 8 Tennessee seeks to stay undefeated against St. Joseph's

Monday's game against visiting and winless Saint Joseph's marks No. 8 Tennessee's penultimate nonconference tune-up before beginning Southeastern Conference play in the final week of December.

Coach Rick Barnes is pleased with the Volunteers' progress as they prepare to shift gears to the SEC.

Six players finished in double figures when Tennessee routed Tennessee Tech 103-49 on Friday, showcasing the kind of depth the team hopes to sustain for the rest of the season. To Barnes, optimal offensive balance stems from a shared team outlook on stopping the ball on the defensive end.

"I do think our guys have an honest respect for the game," Barnes said. "I think they have an honest respect for their teammates, knowing that full well that if they don't play hard, someone is waiting to come in. I do think our guys honestly have great respect for each other, that they don't want to let each other down. That's where I think it starts."

Since navigating multiple early-season postponements as the program contended with COVID-19 issues, Tennessee (4-0) has started to find its stride.

At 54 points, the margin of victory against Tennessee Tech marked the eighth-largest in program history as the Volunteers shot 58.3 percent from the field, including 47.4 percent from 3-point range.

Playing his fourth career game, freshman Jaden Springer led Tennessee with 21 points in 22 minutes on 8-for-10 shooting. Springer added six rebounds and six assists.

"He was terrific," Barnes said. "I thought he really played within himself. He had a great feel for what he was looking for. Taking care of the ball was huge. His assists were terrific. Jaden really understands where he wants to get the ball for himself. He obviously is a very good finisher. Midrange, close to the basket. He is great at that."

Saint Joseph's remains winless following an 88-68 loss against No. 7 Villanova on Saturday night. The Hawks (0-4) shot 44.6 percent against the crosstown rival Wildcats, as Jordan Hall and Taylor Funk paced the team with 17 points apiece.

Thursday's loss to another fellow Philadelphia school, Drexel, marked the Hawks' closest this season, at four points. It also started a grueling stretch of three games in five days that concludes Monday.

"I feel like our guys understand it," Hawks coach Billy Lange said. "It's an awakening. We're trying to elevate St. Joe's basketball on its great history and foundation. This is an awakening for anyone that wants to aspire to be at a very high level."

Saint Joseph's opened the season with an overtime loss to Auburn in the Rocket Mortgage Fort Myers Tip-Off.

The Hawks held a lead early in the second half against Kansas in the same event before allowing the then-No. 5 Jayhawks to go on a 17-4 run that shifted momentum.

Four Volunteers enter the game with double-digit scoring averages -- John Fulkerson (12.8), Springer (12.5), Victor Bailey Jr. (10.8) and Josiah-Jordan James (10.5).

"We can get better, don't get me wrong," Barnes said. "We still have a ways to go in a lot of different areas. We have to continue to develop consistent offensive depth."

--Field Level Media

Updated December 21, 2020

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