Rushed Reactions: #11 Tennessee 83, #14 Mercer 63Posted by Brad Jenkins on March 23rd, 2014
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Three Key Takeaways.
- Tennessee dominated in the paint. The Volunteers have two wide-bodies in the post and they made good use of them tonight. In the first half, Tennessee hammered the Bears on the glass, holding an incredible +20 edge in total rebounds in route to a 42-27 halftime lead. With eight minutes to go in the game, Tennessee’s Jarnell Stokes had 16 rebounds and the entire Mercer team had nine. In Friday’s big upset over #3 seed Duke, the Bears found success attacking the weak Blue Devil interior to the tune of +16 in points-in-the-paint. But against the rugged Volunteers, that edge went to Tennessee by a convincingly margin (+12). Stokes has become one of the most impressive performers in this year’s Tournament, sporting averages of 20.3 points and 15.0 rebounds in the three Tennessee wins.
- Mercer needed this to be a close game going down the stretch. Coming into the game, the Bears had a decided edge in close game performance, but they just couldn’t get the score tight enough in the second half for that to matter. Part of the reason that Tennessee is rated so highly by possession-based computers — despite a less than gaudy 23-12 record coming into the game — is that the Volunteers have won a lot of blowouts, but have lost all five games decided by five points or less on the season. By contrast, Mercer went 8-2 in close games, which includes winning five of its six overtime contests during the year. Down by 19 early in the second half tonight, the Bears got the lead down to 11 with just over two minutes left, but were never close enough to put any real game pressure on Tennessee.
- Tennessee looks like a legitimate Final Four contender. The Volunteers are playing extremely well right now, and not just because of the match-ups they have been presented with. Coming into the game, Ken Pomeroy had Tennessee ranked #6 overall, indicating that the Volunteers, not Louisville, were probably the most poorly seeded team of the Tournament. One of the best things about Tennessee is its overall balance. According to Pomeroy, the Volunteers are one of only three teams that are ranked in the top 20 in the nation, in both offensive and defensive adjusted efficiency. So, unlike so many other highly rated teams (see: Duke and Ohio State), the success of the guys from Knoxville isn’t dependent on just one end of the court. Headed to the Sweet Sixteen for the first time since 2010, Tennessee hopes to follow in the footsteps of the 2011 VCU Rams, who made the Final Four after starting the tournament in the First Four.
Star of the Game. Josh Richardson, Tennessee. The junior wing got the Volunteers off to a good start, scoring 16 in the first half on the way to a game-high 26, while shooting an efficient 9-of-13 from the field. More importantly, he has really stepped up his game in the NCAA tournament by scoring at least 15 points in all three games.
Quotable: “Our guys battled like crazy, but Tennessee was tremendous. They got the biggest men in America.” — Mercer head coach Bob Hoffman, discussing Tennessee’s inside play.
Sights and Sounds: Mercer got great crowd support for several reasons. First of all, underdogs always pull in the “neutral” fans in tournament settings. Secondly, Tennessee’s in-state rival Memphis is at the same site, so the Tigers’ faithful joined the Bears’ fan club for the evening. And finally, hats off to the school from Macon, Georgia, for arranging for 500+ students to take 10 buses up for the game today. Those Mercer students never sat down, and never stopped cheering.
What’s Next? The Volunteers move on to the Midwest Regional in Indianapolis and will face #2 seed Michigan there on Friday night.