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What Rick Barnes said after No. 5 Tennessee's 90-64 win over No. 22 Ole Miss

IMG_3593by:Grant Ramey01/06/24


Rick Barnes Talks Sec Opener Against Ole Miss

Everything head coach Rick Barnes said after No. 5 Tennessee opened Southeastern Conference play with a 90-64 win over No. 22 Ole Miss on Saturday at Thompson-Boling Arena:

If that was Tennessee’s most complete game of the season

“No doubt. No doubt. When we came back after Christmas, that’s been our biggest (thing we) talked about, we had not put together complete games. And I do think we played a complete game against Norfolk State. I thought it was, and what I mean by that, it’s not just the effort defensively, but trying to get — we gotta continue to get better — but trying to get guys to be confident and take their shots. And tonight, the biggest thing was communication. 

“I thought our guys really communicated extremely well. Without question the best we played against, I said coming in, Chris Beard’s one of the best in the business and has done just a terrific job in a short time there. And we were, again, we were at our best. And I’m proud of the effort. The guys, I thought defensively they really worked at it. And the thing that I’m most pleased is that when we missed shots early guys kept taking them. Because that’s where we had bogged down. That’s the one thing, again, talking about the confidence, keeping these guys confident that they’ll continue to shoot the ball when they’re open. And we do that, it will help us to move forward.”

What made Tennessee’s pick-and-roll with Jonas Aidoo and Zakai Zeigler so effective

“Well, I think a lot of teams played personnel. And, you think about it, we can spread people out … if people know we’re going to shoot it. Because I think that we’ve got enough guys on the team have proven that if they get good looks at it, they can make shots. And obviously that was one reason getting spread out that way. And, I thought Zakai really is getting so much better in ball screens. He’s getting better at getting rid of it, feeling the game, and making good passes. And our post guys are getting off of it better. But it’s just the fact that there’s no doubt that I do think that people respect the fact that we’ve got some guys that can shoot the ball.”

Jonas Aidoo having 24 points and 10 rebounds against an Ole Miss team that has two 7-footers on roster

“I thought Jonas’s fault physically too. We had talked about it. He and I had a long talk the other day after practice and just told him how good I thought he was. And I said, Jonas, you know, you’re so much better than you’re playing. And I said, I think you’re as good as anybody if you’re willing to do what you need to do day in and day out. And I believe that because Jonas is just a wonderful person, great kid, love being around him. I told him, I said, I’ve got really high expectations for you. And like I said, same about to Tobe (Awaka) and JP (Estrella) and Cade (Phillips). He was really focused yesterday in practice. I thought he really, and defensively, I thought he worked at it trying to get up there because they do a good job in their ball screen. They’re a niche team to guard from movement. But it wasn’t just what he did with scoring, but rebounding. I thought it was him really trying to escort his man up to the screen and trying to make plays up there. 

Why his message to Jonas Aidoo about how good he can be is starting to set in

“First of all, and I will tell you, I told him that it’s hard to play this game the right way, day in and day out. I mean, where he wants to go, you’ve gotta do that. And I think he does. And, and, uh, but it’s hard. I mean, what, what we ask these guys to do day in and day out and how we’ve tried to build this team. It was hard. In the locker room after the game, I asked our younger guys, I said, you guys can play at some point in time this year. We’re gonna need you. Well, what did you learn from this game? And they all had a comment about how hard, physical it was. They talked about how you have to sustain play and can’t let up. And once those guys continue to do that, they’re gonna help us. Those young guys, I think I go back to Jonas, it’s the same thing, knowing how hard it is night in and night out. And when you put up numbers like this, it gets harder. But that’s what makes you get better. That’s what sharpens you up and talking about iron sharpening iron. When you get good and people come at you every night, you either embrace that challenge or you’re going to take one step forward, two steps back.”

The confidence he has in Jahmai Mashack’s jump shot

“Well, I’ve said many times, and I tell Shaq this all the time; I have invested a lot of time in him because I love him to death. He’s totally remade his shot, spent time doing it. He’s gotta continue. He’s still not there with it. But with that said, I’ve also told him, you don’t have to make a shot. You’re an elite defender. If you want to do that, that’s gotta be your calling card. And I actually said to him last night in front of the team, I said, ‘now, hey, now we better know what we’re good at. You better know what your role is on this team.’ And he came in and when he’s open and has rhythm, we want him to shoot the ball. And when he plays under control, when he drives the ball, he makes (good decisions) — it’s when he gets sped up. And 99% of the time he speeds himself up, it’s not the defense, but he’s going out there and again, he knows, and you guys have watched practice. You guys know I’m hard on him because I have high expectations for him. I told him, I don’t want any surprises. I wanna know night in and night out exactly what we’re getting. And I thought he played a terrific game tonight.”

If it’s rare that he has to tell a player how good they can be or how high their ceiling is

“Do I think it’s rare? No, I don’t think it’s rare because I I think sometimes, and I’ll be brutally honest with you, I have a hard time complimenting people because I think sometimes when, you compliment guys, I think they let up. I think you gotta live on the edge there. I think you gotta, you know, and as much as I want to, I hold back because I’ve been burned, you know, where I just don’t, I just want more. And I keep telling ’em they gotta want it, they gotta want more. They gotta want to keep climbing. Do I think they can go straight up the pole? I don’t, but can they keep climbing some way every day? A little bit. Just, that’s, that’s what I want to see and oftentimes when guys have success, it is just a human nature to let it go and think it’s just gonna happen. It’s not going to just happen. I promise you what Jonas did tonight. He made it happen. What Shaq did, they made it happen. They’ve trained hard, they’ve worked hard, but it’s gonna get harder in Starkville, I promise you that. It’s gonna be harder. And every week after that, it’s gonna get harder.”

How he would assess where Tennessee is defensively compared to recent defenses he’s had

“I told the guys tonight, I didn’t think, and again, I’ve got, as a coaching staff, we’ve got tremendous confidence in our guys fixing things out there. Their preparation is, they understand how big that can be for ’em. And again, our coaches do a great job with the scouts. But, like tonight, I kept telling ’em during the timeout, you guys, we gotta adjust our defense. They’re just isolating and putting their head down, we’re letting ’em get down. We don’t want, we want to try to get ’em into long possessions if we can. We had to leave. Let’s not let them come down and score quickly. And I thought we stayed stretched out a little bit. I thought we were, again, probably concerned about giving up the three ’cause they started the game trying to hit us with this hammer on the backside to skip it and take advantage of our help defense. And you know what, it’s that much, it’s just that much space on the floor you gotta cover. 

“But overall, the older guys, we know going forward that we want Jordan Gainey to get there and he’s trying. Is Dalton (Knecht) going to get to where these guys are in a year? Probably not. But he’s working at trying to get better. And our younger guys, there’s no doubt that since Christmas, Freddie (Dilione), Cam (Carr), and JP (Estrella) and Cade (Phillips) have improved defensively, and when I showed them tape last night after practicing against each other, there’s a difference. And they said it tonight, it’s sustaining it. And that’s where we gotta get them to, to help us. And they will, they’ll get there, we’ll get ’em there. 

“But we’ve worked hard at trying to guard our own man. We’ve worked (hard), you know, we’ve scheme, we try to figure out our — I thought Jonas and Tobe (Awaka) did as good a job with their defense, escorting their man out to the screen, where we were trying to put a hard hit on the ball up there. And that’s not easy for those guys, to go down and then back out. But if they don’t do the work early at the rim, they come up and we play against a team that’s got the ability to get downhill on you, it’s tough. But those guys, you can look at, that doesn’t show up in this stuff (box score), but that’s where they did a great job tonight, really escorting their screener up to the screen.”

How much harder it is these days to get a player like Jahmai Mashack to stick around and embrace a role that isn’t as big as it could be at other places

“Well, I think it’s a real compliment to his family and who he is. I mean, he’s a fighter, you know, he always has been. They’ve never wanted him to have something he didn’t earn. He came here and he’s learned a lot. I think he’s going to, if he would just continue to understand the game and truly understand what — God has gifted him with an incredible ability to defend, and he competes. Those are talents, hard work, competing, all that’s talent. And a work ethic. That’s a talent. It really is. But you go back and you look at our team, and again, you guys have watched us practice. I mean, those older guys pretty much bring that every day. But I think it goes back to his family. They’ve never asked for anything other than for him to have a chance to get better and coach him hard and help him improve. And he’s doing it.”

Tennessee’s 19 offensive rebounds and turning them into 22 second-chance points:

“We got a bunch of ’em there on that one, I think three or four there late in the game, where we’re just trying to get it over with and finish the game the way it should be finished. But it goes back, it’s important as a coaching staff and we preach it to our guys, take your shots and let’s go rebound it. Let’s go get it. Some nights can’t get inside to get it. Some of the long rebounds you can run down, and we ran down a few of them. Obviously we need to do that, but I truly believe if you play defense, rebound the ball on both ends whether you’re making shots or not and take care of the ball, don’t give up turnovers for easy baskets. You’re gonna have a chance every night to be in the game and nights when you’re shooting the ball well, those type things, you hope and expect to win the game. Early in the game, we had some great look, didn’t go in, but I’m just glad those guys kept shooting because that’s something that we harped on and we’re gonna continue to want to take those shots.”

The keys for Tennessee’s Tobe Awaka when he faces forwards that have the size advantage

“It’s all about space. Trying to carve out your space where you can get it and play quick off the ground. But again, it goes back to his work. His hard work is paying off for him. There’s no doubt he’s getting better and better, and believe me, he hasn’t even scratched the surface. I thought defensively tonight, he was great getting out there. The more we can get, again, talking about our defense, you know, we switch sometimes on the fly when some guys can’t, we get bumped on the screen or something. 

“But Tobe, like I just talked to him out there and he said, ‘coach, I gotta be better.’ When you got that kind of attitude, that’s when you know you got something. He said, ‘I gotta play better.’ And he’s tough on himself, you know, he wants to get it right and perfect the whole time, which is a wonderful way to look at it. But again, that’s what he said to me tonight. He said, ‘I gotta play better.’ And he’s gonna keep getting better because of that.”

Why Tennessee was able to make a run going into halftime

“Right now there’s a lot situations of the game going through my head, but they missed some shots now, too, you know. Looks that, I think they would think that they ran good offense and had some looks at it and missed it. We were coming out and when we can rebound it and get out and run, that’s what we want to do. That’s what we want to do, obviously. But it takes all five guys going in there to get it and make a couple three’s at the end (of the first half). I think we made a couple three’s late in the first half where we finally made a couple and obviously the play that Shaq made, that’s a big that goes from eight to 11. That’s a big play. Josiah made that play. I mean, we had a play on. It didn’t materialize the way we wanted it to, but he made the play work and Shaq obviously knocked it down.”

Why he wanted Tennessee to lean on the pick-and-roll more against Ole Miss

“I don’t know if I’d say there’s something just tonight because, you know, we’ve worked on it all year. We defend it every day, you know. We have to because everybody is such a heavy (pick-and-roll team). 

“We like movement, we like cutting, you know, we like a little bit of all of it. And just the fact we spend a lot of time on it and we’re getting better with it ourselves. But when we get moving and we’ve got an unselfish group of guys. The only thing I would tell you where guys might be selfish is — and I’ve told them this — is when they turn down wide open shots. We gotta shoot it. I wanna score every time and I sit there and talk to myself, ‘when are we gonna make a shot?’ But I know it’s the right shot. I know it’s the right play. You think about it, we start the game, I think we missed a bunch to start with, but again, that’s probably pleases me as much as anything. That we didn’t put it away and we kept taking those shots.”

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