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Thompson-Boling Arena - Knoxville, TN

Lockdown defense leads No. 11 Tennessee on opening day

82 days ago
Tennessee Athletics
Photo: Tennessee Athletics

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - Picking up right where it left off after a perfect home slate in 2021-22, the 11th-ranked Tennessee Volunteers opened the 2022-23 season with a 75-43 victory over Tennessee Tech Monday night at Thompson Boling Arena.

The Volunteers (1-0) made it happen on both ends of the floor and Tyreke Key shined in his Rocky Top debut, leading the team in scoring with 17 points and shooting 4-of-8 from beyond the arc. He enlivened the second-largest crowd for a home opener in the Rick Barnes era, bringing the 17,957 in attendance to their feet time and time again. The Vols also won their sixth-consecutive season opener in the Barnes era.

The defense was a team effort as the Vols logged 17 steals in the game, tying a Barnes era high. Nine different Vols had a steal in the game and the staunch defense was led by Key, Santiago Vescovi and Jahmai Mashack, who each recorded three. For Mashack, it set a new career high.

Vescovi got his senior campaign off to a strong start as he compiled an all-around night, adding nine points on three 3-pointers and leading the team rebounds (8) and tying for the team lead in assists (5).

The Vols chucked up the second-most 3-point tries in program history, attempting 44 on the night. 14 of such shots found the net after the Vols had 13 games with double-digit made 3-pointers a year ago.

More impressively the Big Orange did not miss at the charity stripe, sinking all nine attempts from the line. It was almost a mirror of the matchup a season ago where the Vols went 10-of-10 from the line, marking the seventh perfect performance from the line in program history (minimum of 10 attempts.) In fact, the Vols have made 27 consecutive free throws against the Golden Eagles, dating back to Dec. 29, 2018.

Tennessee's lockdown defense started early in the ballgame. The Volunteers did not allow a Tennessee Tech field goal for the first 8:40 of the game, amassing five steals during that span all by different Vols. For the half, the Golden Eagles amassed just 16 points, the lowest first half total for a Tennessee opponent since conceding 15 to UNC Greensboro last December.

Key, an impact transfer from Indiana State, introduced himself to Vol Nation early, coming off the bench and scoring 11 of Tennessee's 27 first half points on 3-of-5 shooting, 2-of-4 from beyond the arc and draining all three free throw tries.

Coming out of the locker room, the offense immediately kicked into gear, hitting 7-of-11 (63.6 percent) from the floor to start the period, including 4-of-6 from deep with makes from Key, Vescovi and Josiah-Jordan James. For the first 10 minutes of the second half, the Vols converted on 7-of-13 (53.8 percent) from downtown.

Zakai Zeigler was a sparkplug in the second period, accounting for 10 points and matching Vescovi's assist total with five.

Tennessee will be back in action Sunday, Nov. 13, in the midstate as the Vols take on Colorado at 2 p.m. ET/1 p.m. CT at Bridgestone Arena in downtown Nashville on ESPN.