Hot shooting helps Tennessee trounce Mercer 84-60
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee is off to a fast start because of its fast starts.
Grant Williams scored 21 points Wednesday as Tennessee capitalized on hot shooting and rolled to an 84-60 victory over Mercer. Tennessee grabbed a 28-7 advantage in the first 12 ½ minutes of the game and led 46-27 at the intermission.
The Volunteers (5-1) have outscored opponents by an average margin of 18.3 points in the first half so far this season and have limited opponents to 23.7 first-half points per game. Even in their only loss — an 85-76 decision against No. 4 Villanova at last week’s Battle 4 Atlantis — the Vols owned a 46-34 halftime advantage.
“Typically it’s been our defense, just how hard we’ve been playing and executing on the other end,” Williams said. “Our defense leads to easy opportunities on offense, and that allows us to do well, especially in the beginning of a game, just getting out to an early lead.”
Williams acknowledged Tennessee’s defense wasn’t quite as good Wednesday after that fast start, as Mercer shot 48 percent and scored 39 points in the second half.
It didn’t matter. Tennessee shot so well that Mercer couldn’t get within striking distance.
Tennessee shot 55.6 percent (30 of 54) overall and 52 percent (13 of 25) from 3-point range in a game the Volunteers never trailed. Jordan Bowden led the 3-point attack by scoring 18 points and shooting 4 of 5 from beyond the arc.
Admiral Schofield had 10 points for Tennessee. James Daniel III contributed nine points and 10 assists with no turnovers.
“We won the game really with our offense,” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said.
Mercer (5-3) played a second straight game without leading scorer Ria’n Holland due to a twisted ankle. Holland averages 20.2 points and is shooting 56.8 percent (21 of 37) from 3-point range this season.
“Obviously he’s a good player and we miss him, but our other guys fought real hard tonight,” Mercer coach Bob Hoffman said.
Jordan Strawberry scored 20 points to lead Mercer. Strawberry is the son of former major league outfielder Darryl Strawberry, who was watching the game from behind Mercer’s bench.
Mercer: The Bears didn’t have enough scorers without Holland on the floor. Strawbery had a big game, but he didn’t get much help. The only other Bear to exceed six points was Ethan Stair, who had 11 points when he fouled out with less than seven minutes left.
Tennessee: The Vols continued their hot start from 3-point range. Tennessee has shot 43 percent from 3-point range (55 of 128) so far this season, and the Vols have gone 21 of 43 from beyond the arc over their last two games. Tennessee made just 32.6 percent of its 3-point attempts last season.
FRUSTRATED FOOTBALL FANS
Tennessee’s football coaching search stole some of the attention during Wednesday’s basketball action. Fans frustrated with athletic director John Currie chanted “Fire Currie” a handful of times. Midway through the second half, fans briefly shouted “We Want Kiffin,” a reference to Florida Atlantic coach and former Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin.
The Vols are seeking a football coach to replace Butch Jones, who was fired Nov. 12. Tennessee was near an agreement with Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano on Sunday before it fell apart amid a public backlash to the prospective move.
“I think John Currie’s working really hard,” Barnes said. “I think it’s really a very difficult job to hire coaches at any level, and I think the fact is it’s a harder job than people think. It’s disappointing to me during our games that the focus isn’t on our basketball team.”
Tennessee had 26 assists on its 30 baskets. ... Mercer outrebounded Tennessee 31-23, which marked the third straight game in which the Vols were outrebounded.
Mercer is at Memphis on Saturday.
Tennessee is at Georgia Tech on Sunday.
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