No. 1 Vols shake off slow start, roll past West Virginia
KNOXVILLE, Tenn.–Lamonte’ Turner had 23 points and No. 1 Tennessee held West Virginia scoreless for a 9 1/2-minute stretch Saturday on its way to an 83-66 victory.
Tennessee (18-1) erased its first double-digit deficit of the season and took command by ending the first half on a 24-2 run and scoring the first four points of the second half. That put the Volunteers on track for their 14th consecutive victory in the school’s longest win streak since it opened the 1922-23 season with 14 straight wins.
Tennessee also earned its 20th straight home win, the first time it has accomplished that feat since 1970-72.
Turner shot 8 of 10 in his first start since the 2017 SEC Tournament. Yves Pons moved to a reserve role to make way for Turner, the 2018 SEC co-sixth man of the year.
Even while coming off the bench, Turner had been playing significantly more minutes than Pons.
Grant Williams scored 19 points for Tennessee, and Jordan Bowden had 15. Admiral Schofield finished with 14 points and 10 rebounds.
Esa Ahmad scored 16 points and Derek Culver had 15 for West Virginia (9-11), which lost for the seventh time in its last eight games.
In its first game since earning the No. 1 ranking, Tennessee had to rally in the final minutes of regulation to win 88-83 at Vanderbilt in overtime. This one wasn’t quite as suspenseful, though West Virginia’s uncharacteristically effective outside shooting gave the Mountaineers an early 12-point lead.
West Virginia entered the day shooting just 31.9 percent from 3-point range, but the Mountaineers made five of their first seven attempts from beyond the arc to grab a 19-7 advantage.
After taking that 19-7 lead with 11:05 left in the half, West Virginia scored just two more points before halftime. The Mountaineers missed 13 straight shots at one point.
Williams went scoreless for the first 17 1/2 minutes but had the final four points in a 17-0 spurt that put the Vols ahead for good. A Derek Culver basket finally ended West Virginia’s drought with 1:34 left in the half, but Tennessee answered with seven straight points to grab a 31-21 halftime lead.
West Virgnia: The Mountaineers’ inability to put the ball in the basket for much of the first half prevented them from having a realistic shot at pulling the upset. West Virginia recovered to shoot 59.3 percent in the second half, but the Mountaineers already had dug themselves too deep a hole by then.
Tennessee: The Vols should understand the pressure that comes with the No. 1 ranking after nearly losing to Vanderbilt and trailing early Saturday. Tennessee has responded well both times but likely will face similar tests next week as it goes on the road to face South Carolina and Texas A&M.
West Virginia is at Iowa State on Wednesday.
Tennessee is at South Carolina on Tuesday.