KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee’s 6-foot-5, 235-pound sophomore power forward Grant Williams has a bullseye on him each time he takes the floor, but Vols’ coach Rick Barnes said that will only make him better.
Tigers coach Cuonzo Martin, whose Missouri team double-teamed Williams sporadically on Wednesday night, forcing four turnovers and a 15-point night on 5-of-12 shooting, explained why Tennessee’s young star gets so much attention.
“He’s probably the toughest guy to defend in our league,” Martin told SEC Country. “His size and strength makes it difficult to defend him with one player. A lot of similarities to Jarnell (Stokes) and Jeronne (Maymon).”
Stokes (6-7, 260) averaged 13 points and 9.6 rebounds over this three years with the Vols (2011-14). Maymon (6-7, 265) averaged 9.7 points and 8.1 rebounds per game his senior season (2013-14) before retiring on account of knee injuries.
The Vols, who didn’t get back from their 59-55 loss at Missouri on Wednesday night until 2 a.m. on Thursday, have a quick turnaround.
South Carolina (12-6, 3-3 SEC) will welcome No. 21-ranked Tennessee (12-5, 3-3) to Colonial Life Arena for a 6:05 p.m. tip on Saturday.
“Today, South Carolina is talking about Grant Williams,” Vols coach Rick Barnes said Friday afternoon. “He’ a guy that’s a target, and he knows that going in. He’s never had it night in and night out like he’s getting it right now.
“It’s only going to make him better, but he’s a key guy, we have to make sure he’s rested.”
The Gamecocks, meanwhile, most recently played on Tuesday night, a 76-78 win over Kentucky.
“You realize they have an extra day of rest and a extra day of preparation,” Barnes said, asked about the quick turnaround. “One thing as coach is you want to make sure your guys are fresh for the game.”
Barnes said he’s hoping to get more quality minutes from front line players in an effort to keep Williams fresh for the second half of a game with South Carolina that figures to go down to the final minute.
Williams leads Tennessee and ranks fourth in the SEC in scoring with 16.6 points per outing, and his 6.6 rebounds each game are also tops for the Vols and 12th in the SEC.
“We’re gonna put the ball in his hands early and see what teams will do,” Barnes said, indicating Tennessee will still run the offense through Williams. “Grant, the more he’s double teamed the better he will get with it, and he really does like passing the ball more. But he has to figure out his spacing, where he wants it, going up quick with it when he can.
“But the other guys, they have to give him some rest. He played too many minutes the other night (35). It goes back to what we were talking about earlier. We need our bench to give us some quality minutes, especially in the first half.”
Kyle Alexander has benefitted most from the extra attention being paid to Williams.
While Williams was 3-of-13 shooting against Texas A&M and 5-of-12 vs. Missouri, pulling down five rebounds in each contest, Alexander was 5-of-6 shooting (14 points) and 6-of-6 (12 points), with 6 rebounds against the Aggies and 4 more in the loss to the Tigers.