KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — When the offense struggled, No. 12 Tennessee turned to its defense and found success.
The Vols, who shot just 32 percent from the field, held Cincinnati to three points in the final six minutes to pull out a 65-56 victory Saturday.
John Fulkerson had 15 points and 12 rebounds, helping Tennessee pull away late. A 3-pointer by David DeJulius put Cincinnati ahead 53-51 with 6:14 left. The 6-foot-9 Fulkerson came back with four foul shots, giving the Vols (2-0) the lead for good.
Jaden Springer added 11 for Tennessee (2-0), making five foul shots. The Vols went 25 for 30 from the line while Cincinnati went 4 for 7.
Jeremiah Davenport came off the bench to lead the Bearcats (2-2) with 14 points. DeJulius scored 11 and Tari Eason had 10.
Keith Williams, who came into the game as Cincinnati’s leading scorer at over 17 points per game, was limited to six.
“We were able to lock down (defensively) late,” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said. “We’re a better shooting team than we were, but it’s nice to know you can still win when you shoot like that.”
While the Vols struggled from the field, they managed to hold a 44-34 rebounding advantage. They were beaten on the boards by Colorado in their opener, 38-32.
Cincinnati big men Chris Vogt and Rapolas Ivanauskas each had three fouls by halftime. Vogt ultimately fouled out.
It wasn’t a coincidence that Tennessee went to the free-throw line 30 times. It had a lot to do with the way the Vols play the game.
“The numbers say a lot about the way we were attacking the basket,” said Tennessee guard Josiah-Jordan James, who hit all six of his tries.
“That just means you want it more than the other team,” said Fulkerson, who made 7 of 8. “Once you get to the line, they’re called free for a reason.”
“There was too much fouling on our part,” said Cincinnati coach John Brannen. “We got really, really, really tough calls (today).”
In its two losses this season (Xavier last week), Cincinnati has sputtered in the final six minutes.
“It’s just not there yet,” Brannen said. “We’re not a very good-executing team yet. It’s something we’ll work on. Tenacity and toughness will become our identity.
Cincinnati: After giving up an average of 75 points in their last two outings, the Bearcats came into Saturday’s road test trying to find improvement on defense before embarking on their conference schedule.
Tennessee: Barnes is still trying to settle on a comfortable rotation that, early in the season, doesn’t put too much pressure on several first-year players.
Springer (11 points) and Keon Johnson (7 points, 6 rebounds) were the first players off the Tennessee bench.
“The No. 6 and 7 players (in the rotation) are so important,” said Barnes. “You want them to come off the bench and take it to the next level.”
Cincinnati: The Bearcats will begin their American Athletic Conference season Wednesday at home against South Florida.
Tennessee: It has been a time filled with additions and subtractions to the Vols’ schedule. After five cancellations, they’ve gotten to 25 games and are scheduled to host Appalachian State on Tuesday.