COLLEGE STATION, Texas — As Tennessee guard Santiago Vescovi worked around the arc during pregame shoot-around, he felt as if he was trying to force a basketball through the eye of a needle. That feeling changed in a big way after the opening tipoff minutes later.
Vescovi scored a career-high 23 points, including six 3-pointers, despite the rough practice before the game to push the No. 9 Volunteers past Texas A&M, 68-54, on Saturday.
“I was not feeling that good like in terms of rhythm of my shot,” Vescovi said. “I really don’t know what happened today. I was shooting the warmup and couldn’t make (a) shot and then I got into the game and they started falling, so I just started taking opportunities.”
Vescovi’s hot hand began early for the Vols (9-1, 3-1 Southeastern Conference) as he hit his first four shots from behind the arc. His barrage was part of a 17-4 Tennessee run that pushed the Volunteers’ lead to 14 midway through the opening half.
Senior Savion Flagg was the Aggies’ saving grace at the end of the first, connecting on three consecutive 3-pointers to pull the Aggies (6-4, 1-3) within six. Flagg entered Saturday’s contests on a 3-for-21 clip from the field over the previous three games.
“I’ve been getting a lot more shots up outside of practice and coming into the gym, getting extra work with the coaches, and getting the managers to come help me rebound,” Flagg said. “Just trying to find my touch again.”
Texas A&M closed the first half hitting five of its final six from 3-point range, including makes by Quenton Jackson and Andre Gordon, and trailed 37-30 at halftime.
Tennessee’s ball movement continued to open gaps in the Aggies defense to start the second half, leading to a 9-4 run, including two layups and a dunk by Yves Pons.
Tennessee was unable to widen its margin to more than 14 through most of the second half, and the Aggies only managed to pull under 10 once.
A 9-2 run at the end of the game, including five points by Vescovi, secured the victory.
John Fulkerson had 11 points and five rebounds for the Vols and Springer rounded out the double-digit scorers with 10 points.
“(Vescovi) knows he wants to be good and he was playing with a lot of confidence today and every game,” Vols’ coach Rick Barnes said.
Flagg led the Aggies in scoring with 12, followed by Jackson with 11.
It was just that kind of shooting day for Vescovi, who hit his final 3-pointer of the game off a one-hop scoop in the corner. Volunteer freshman Jaden Springer drove the lane and, while in the air, wildly dished the ball over to Vescovi in the corner by the Tennessee bench. The pass short- hopped the sophomore, but he managed to scoop the errant pass, set himself, and drain the 3.
HE SAID IT
Texas A&M coach Buzz Williams: “I think (Tennessee) is the best team we’ve played since we’ve been here. Coach (Barnes) will be one of the final coaches that will be inducted into the Hall of Fame while he is still coaching. He’s going to end up being like coach (Bob) Huggins and coach (Bill) Self and coach (Tom) Izzo. He’ll be one of the last guys that is in that group.”
Tennessee: The Vols continue on their winning ways as the top-ranked team in the SEC, two games removed from taking their only loss of the season against Alabama.
Texas A&M: The Aggies have lost three conference games by a combined 61 points.
Tennessee travels to South Carolina on Tuesday night.
Texas A&M will face Mississippi State in Starkville on Wednesday night.