Santiago Vescovi was on a heater and he didn’t need much.
The Tennessee basketball guard slipped behind a Julian Phillips screen and popped a 3-pointer, swishing it. They turned nonchalantly down the court while Phillips celebrated Vescovi’s third 3-pointer in a rapid second-half stretch. The Vols were rolling on a 17-1 run and playing their best basketball of the regular season.
Well. 22 Tennessee (3-1) blasted Butler (3-2) in a 71-45 win to open the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas.
Vescovi led the Vols with 13 points. Julian Phillips had 11, keying the second-half roll.
The Vols forced 23 turnovers.
The second-half run started with Jahmai Mashack, defense
Jahmai Mashack came in with 14:24 and Tennessee leading 36-34. Tennessee forced five turnovers and went on a 17-1 run in the following 5:09.
Mashack stole a Butler inbound pass, then helped on defense to lead to a Vescovi steal.
Phillips scored off the first steal, then Vescovi made a 3-pointer off his Steal to get rolling. Phillips scored again and Vescovi hit another 3-pointer on a dandy off an assist from Zakai Zeigler.
Butler made a free throw before Vescovi hit his third 3-pointer, Mashack made a layup and Vescovi got an open-court steal and layup.
The Vols found offense at the rim, getting to the line
Tennessee and Butler combined for 23 first-half turnovers, but the Vols settled offensively late in the half by getting into the paint and getting to the free-throw line.
UT closed the first half on a 10-0 run started by a Jahmai Mashack layup. Phillips made a pair of free throws before Mashack made another layup. Zeigler made a free throw, then finished the half with a long 3-pointer — UT’s first after missing its first six attempts.
The Vols were 9-for-13 at the free-throw line. Phillips was 5-for-6.
Josiah-Jordan James did not play
Josiah-Jordan James did not play against Butler due to knee soreness. The senior guard, who leads UT with 13.7 points and 6.0 rebounds per game, had an offseason knee procedure that limited him through the preseason.
James has played 23.3 minutes per game through three games.
The 6-foot-6 James had eight points and four rebounds in 18 minutes against in UT’s season-opening 75-43 win. He had 15 points and eight rebounds in 27 minutes in Tennessee’s 78-66 loss to Colorado.
James had 18 points and was 4-for-6 on 3-pointers in an 81-50 win against Florida Gulf Coast.
The Vols face USC on Thursday (1:30 pm ET, ESPN2) in a semifinal.
Mike Wilson covers University of Tennessee athletics. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @ByMikeWilson. If you enjoy Mike’s coverage, consider a digital subscription that will allow you access to all of it.