KNOXVILLE — Tyreke Key came off the bench to score 17 points and lead No. 11 Tennessee to a 75-43 victory over Tennessee Tech in the season opener for both teams Monday night.
Key, an Indiana State transfer, connected on 4 of 8 3-pointers to ignite a sluggish Volunteer offense. Zakai Zeigler scored all but two of his 12 points in the second half.
“I felt comfortable,” said Key, who sat out last season with an injury. “I got in rhythm early. Being a spark off the bench is great.”
Key had three steals to go with his point production.
“(What Key did) is not a surprise,” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said. “His demeanor never changes. He’s been everything we thought he could be. He can be more.”
Tennessee hit 10 of 23 3-pointers in the second half to overcome a rough start in front of 17,957 fans.
“If we’re open, we’re going to take shots,” Barnes said. “We adjust to what our players are good at. We can shoot the ball.”
Brett Thompson led the Golden Eagles with 15 points.
Barnes was upset with his team’s meager 37-28 edge on the boards. However, the fast pace of play pleased the veteran coach.
“We want to make our depth a factor,” Barnes said. “Pace is really important to us.”
Vols guard Santiago Vescovi had nine points, eight rebounds and five assists.
Tennessee struggled in the first half and built an 11-point lead at 27-16. The Vols shot 31% (9 of 29) from the field and 19% (4 of 21) from 3-point. Key led the way with 11 points.
In a pay-per-view exhibition against preseason No. 2 Gonzaga in late October, the Vols were quite impressive. The halftime score was tight, but Tennessee ran away with a 99-80 victory. Since it didn’t count, it leaves a question: Will/should that factor into the voting consideration for next week’s first poll of the season?
Tennessee Tech: The experience Tennessee Tech can gain from a quality opponent like Tennessee can pay off throughout the season. Measuring itself against one of the best in the country gives an idea of what to focus on down the road.
Tennessee: Solidifying the rotation is imperative for Rick Barnes. When Josiah-Jordan James missed both exhibitions while offseason knee surgery healed, the Vols played well against Michigan State in a closed scrimmage and Gonzaga in an exhibition. Add in a preseason All-SEC player like James and the Vols should be even better.
Tennessee Tech: At home against Tennessee Wesleyan on Thursday.
Tennessee: A “neutral site” game against Colorado on Sunday at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville.