“I really didn’t feel the pressure,” said Vescovi, a midseason enrollee who arrived at Tennessee on Dec. 28. “Back in Uruguay, all the stands are crazy. It’s almost like a soccer game. They’re all chanting all the game. It’s another environment. Once I got here, it doesn’t affect me.”
Mizzou Arena was about half full Tuesday, but the home crowd was riled up with the score tied at 53 in the final six minutes. That’s when Vescovi, a 6-foot-3 freshman guard who had yet to score, went on a personal 8-0 run. He made two 3- pointers, then stole an in- bounds pass and converted a layup.
“I was still feeling confident,” said Vescovi, who scored 18 points in his college debut against LSU on Saturday. “The 3 that I made really helped me get back in the game. That was a crucial part of the game.”
Six players scored in double figures for Tennessee (9-5, 1-1 Southeastern Conference). Jordan Bowden scored 13, and Josiah-Jordan James, John Fulkerson, Yves Pons and Jalen Johnson each had 11. It was a career high for Johnson.
Tennessee entered the game ranked 13th in the SEC in shooting percentage (.426), while Missouri was the league leader in field-goal percentage defense (.365). The Vols weren’t bothered in the least, shooting 53.5% overall and 45.8% from 3-point range. That made up for some sloppy ball-handling. Vescovi had five turnovers.
“Twenty-one turnovers are hard to live with, but that shows you we have the ability,” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said. “I do think we have a good shooting team, especially when we move the ball.”
Tray Jackson scored a career-high 11 and Mitchell Smith added 10 points for the Tigers (8-6, 0-2).
The teams combined for eight traveling violations in the first half, but Tennessee cleaned up its act in the final minutes and scored the last six points to take a 32-28 halftime lead. Johnson, who entered the game averaging 2.4 points, scored 11 first-half points on 3-of-4 shooting from 3-point range.
In the second half, the Vols opened an early 10-point lead. Smith and the Tigers fought back, and his two free throws gave Missouri a 53-50 advantage. Then James answered with a tying 3- pointer before Vescovi took over.
“He has a slower jump shot, but if he gets it off, it’s going in,” James said. “He’s so methodical. He measures it before he shoots it, but I know it’s going in every time he shoots it.”
Tennessee did what few teams have against Missouri: made shots. The Tigers had held five straight opponents to five or fewer made 3-pointers. Tennessee made 11 of 24 from beyond the arc.
“They’re really hard to score on the first side,” Barnes said. “You have to move the ball against them. They’re not going to give you anything easy. We felt like we could get the ball going from side to side and get some things. Josiah is getting more and more comfortable. It normally takes our point guard a year and a half to understand our transition game, and it’s not what it’s been in the past, but we’ll keep working on it.”
FRESHMAN IS A BRIGHT SPOT
Jackson, a freshman forward, didn’t even play in the Tigers’ loss at Kentucky on Saturday. But Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin is unpredictable in his substitution patterns, and he called on Jackson for nine very productive minutes against Tennessee.
Jackson made 3 of 5 field goals and 4 of 4 free throws.
“I was happy to see the way Tray played,” Martin said. “He played great. He was a little winded, but he played great. He has the mentality to score the ball.”
The Vols play South Carolina on Saturday at home.