When the No. 1 team in the nation comes in and plays like the No. 1 team in the nation, there is not much one can do except keep on fighting.
Texas A&M did that, but it wasn’t enough as the Volunteers won their program best 16th straight game 93-76 with a shooting clinic that even left Tennessee coach Rick Barnes shaking his head.
“Offensively, I don’t think we can be any more efficient, to be honest with you,” Barnes said. “Offensively, I do think our guys were playing really, really well, but I just think you have to give credit to Texas A&M the way they kept fighting and staying in it and they shot the ball well.”
Tennessee (20-1, 8-0) made 12 of its first 14 shots, and finished shooting 65 percent. Junior point guard Jordan Bone was 7 of 7 overall and 4 of 4 on 3-pointers for 18 points and had 10 of the Vols’ season-high 28 assists
“He had command of what he wanted to do out there,” Barnes said. “When they went from man to zone, he knew exactly what we wanted to do, and he called a play and their bench called it out, too, and instead of doing what we do most of the time, he went to the second option first.”
The Vols were 31 of 42 from inside the 3-point arc, running an efficient offense, spreading the floor and getting balanced scoring. Five players had at least 14 points, led by Grant Williams’ 22. Starters Lamonte Turner and Admiral Schofield finished with 19 and 14 points, respectively. Jordan Bowden came off the bench to score 16.
“When their guard play is so good, Jordan Bone goes perfect from the field and has 10 assists and two turnovers then Grant Williams and Schofield can post up, and it’s hard to help off anybody,” A&M coach Billy Kennedy said. “When they do, they make you pay because they really know how to play together.”
Tennessee got up 28-11 on the 12 of 14 shooting. Five players contributed, with Bone leading the way with seven and Schofield dropping in six.
The Vols remained hot the entire half, not missing from inside the arc until their 13th attempt. They finished the half making 67 percent of their shots, and were 16 of 20 on two-pointers, and for the game, shot 75 percent inside the 3-point line.
The Aggies, who started forwards Christian Mekowulu and Josh Nebo together for the first time, got back into the game when Jay Jay Chandler entered.
Chandler scored twice on drive, getting fouled once, and Flagg made a 3 to get A&M within 28-17. Brandon Mahan then made his presence known, hitting the first of his three 3s in the half. TJ Starks sank a 3 and Chandler got loose on a fast break to close the gap to 34-29.
“We tried to play big, but struggled defensively in transition,” Kennedy said. “We started that way in hopes of matching their size, but it was not good lineup for us offensively or defensively against their talent.”
The A&M bench, which consisted of Chandler and Mahan, was 6 for 6 in the first half, including three 3-pointers from Mahan.
The Vols led 46-39 at the half with 10 points each from Bone, Williams and Schofield.
The Aggies, in front of 10,234 fans, albeit about 2,000 of which were wearing orange, made another run in the second half with the help of Wendell Mitchell, who had all 18 of his points after intermission.
The Aggies (8-12, 1-7) cut the lead to two three times, the first on a Mahan 3, the second on a Mitchell 3 and the third on a Starks drive. The last was at 65-63. From there, the Vols went on a 10-3 run and, a minute later, put together a 9-2 run.
“We made some shots, too, in one stretch and were able to keep it relatively close, but we couldn’t sustain shot-making like that,” Kennedy said. “We had some opportunities. We missed free throws. When they play that well, you have to do everything right, and we didn’t do everything right.”
The missed free throws came at an inopportune time with Mitchell missing 2 of 3 after being fouled on a 3-pointer. He later missed one after being fouled on a breakaway, and Starks missed 2 of 3 at a point the Aggies were making a game of it.
In all, the Aggies were 6 of 12 from the line. They made up for it from behind the 3-point line, sinking a season-high 12 of 25. Flagg made two and finished with 14 points, Starks had 11 points, Josh Nebo 10 and Mahan was perfect off the bench with four 3s for 12 points.
Starks had a team-high eight assists.
“They caused us lot of problems with TJ Starks getting down the lane,” Barnes said. “In the last 7 minutes, we just decided to take him out and make someone else make a play, and that’s what we did. For them to fight the way they fought tonight, the way they worked, they made us work for it. We truly respected A&M, I like that about our players; we didn’t care about the record.”
A&M, which has yet to win an SEC game at home, hits the road for games at Ole Miss on Wednesday and Missouri on Saturday.
“Unfortunately for us, we played the No .1 team in country, and they played like the No. 1 team in the country,” Kennedy said. “I thought offensively, they are by far the best team we’ve played, with their execution and poise and togetherness.”