KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Rick Barnes went from calling out Tennessee’s Kyle Alexander to referring to the 6-foot-11 junior as the team MVP on Saturday night.
Alexander was that good for the No. 24-ranked Vols on a night when Texas A&M was geared toward stopping sophomore Grant Williams.
“For two days in practice, we went after Kyle, and he was terrific today,” Barnes said after Tennessee’s 75-62 win over the Aggies at Thompson-Boling Arena. “If you had to pick an MVP today, it would be him.”
Alexander scored a career-high 14 points with 6 rebounds and 3 blocked shots, leading Tennessee to outrebound the bigger Texas A&M front line 38-29 while limiting the SEC’s top offensive rebounding team to just 6 offense rebounds.
“At halftime of Vandy game we challenged our bench, Kyle had zeroes across the board, John Fulkerson, Jordan Bowden had zeroes,” Barnes said Saturday night. “From start to finish, Kyle was terrific.
“Kyle, he’s a junior now, we shouldn’t be talking about ‘Where did you go,’” Barnes said. “We’re not asking him to do a lot of great things, but what we ask him to do, he needs to do, and that’s defense and rebounding.”
Alexander, whose family came down from Ontario, Canada, to see him play for the second time this season, said he understands.
“All this shows Coach Barnes is that I’m capable, and I wouldn’t want to play for a coach that expected anything less of me,” Alexander said. “I appreciate his honesty and him being on me every day. That’s what he said after the Vanderbilt game, that he needs consistency, and that’s what I want from myself.”
Tennessee junior wing Admiral Schofield said Alexander is a key to the team.
“He sets the tone, he’s 6-11 with a 7-5 wingspan, we have one of those guys on our team, and we’re playing against teams that have two or three,” Schofield said. “When he is out there and he’s as energetic as the guards and as active, he really sets the tone for us, and Kyle can really guard.
“People don’t pay attention to it, but Kyle is one of the most underrated defenders in the country, I think. Coach Barnes would probably say the same thing, block shots, he can guard guards, he does the pick and roll and he does the little things, he’s physical and he does everything you need a guy to do.”
Tennessee on a roll.
No. 24 Vols win third straight, a 75-62 victory over Texas A&M, dropping the Aggies to 0-5 in the SEC. pic.twitter.com/HN0NVoa4oD
— NCAA March Madness (@marchmadness) January 14, 2018