KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Rick Barnes talked Friday about shaking up the Tennessee backcourt with a new guard rotation.
On Saturday, with a Top 25 ranking and a three-game losing streak to South Carolina on the line, the Vols’ head coach successfully put his plan into operation.
Lamonte Turner came off the bench to score 25 points and lead No. 21 Tennessee (13-5, 4-3 SEC) to the 70-63 win over the Gamecocks (12-7, 3-4).
Turner was red-hot from the floor, making 6-of-9 shots (3-of-3 from 3-point range) while going 10-of-10 from the free-throw line. Turner also pulled down a team-high six rebounds with two assists and two turnovers in 32 minutes.
Jordan Bone started at point guard but picked up two quick fouls and was limited to 16 minutes, scoring 2 points on 1-of-3 shooting with one rebound, one assist and three turnovers in 16 minutes.
James Daniel scored 2 points on 0-for-2 shooting with one assist and one turnover in 22 minutes.
“Lamonte, I told him, we’re gonna give you three guys (time) at the point, we’re gonna see who can get us into our offense,” Barnes said after the game.
“We started off the year thinking we had a lot of different guys that could help us. Lamonte Turner, I’ve been very hard on him for three years, and he keeps bouncing back.”
The question is, how high will Turner or the Vols’ guards bounce from game to game?
Barnes admits he still doesn’t know what to expect from one outing to another with a 7 p.m. home game against Vanderbilt on Tuesday up next.
“I wish I knew,” Barnes said. “You’ve heard me use the terms ‘consistency’ and ‘reliability,’ and we’ve been up and down and our guard play has been sporadic at year. When we’re locked in, we can do that.”
Turner, speaking to the Vol Network after the game, said Barnes’ changeup in the rotation is what got him going.
“Usually I play off the ball, but coach moved me on the ball, and I think me having the ball in my hands, I felt comfortable and I was able to make plays,” Turner said. “Coach’s motto was, ‘We’re not gonna run offense, we’re going too play offense.’ Guys will have to make plays.”
Turner made the plays, and Tennessee got the win, improving its RPI to No. 12 in the nation and taking another step toward what would be the program’s first NCAA Tournament appearance in four years.