Tennessee-Missouri Preview

Tennessee coach Rick Barnes told his team to forget about any more lopsided wins once SEC play began.

The No. 3 Volunteers took him at his word, then proved him wrong.

They began SEC play with a 96-50 home rout of Georgia on Saturday and cruise into Columbia to face Missouri on Tuesday night.

Tennessee (12-1) tied the second-largest margin of victory against an SEC opponent in program history. But it figures to find things more competitive against the Tigers (9-3), who won their last six non-conference games but haven't played since Dec. 29.

"Coach Barnes let us know that we're not going to be in anymore 20-point blowouts," forward Kyle Alexander said after the victory against the Bulldogs. "Every game that we play from now on is going to be a close game, so I think that the mindset we had was that every possession matters and that really helped us."

Barnes said he sensed at Friday's practice that his players were eager to get on the court and play after the holiday break, though he admitted teams don't always play the way he expects.

"We don't know how we will come out," Barnes said. "I've seen us have good practices and not play well. But (Friday) you can just tell they wanted to practice and they didn't want to leave it out there. You can tell they wanted to get up and down the floor.

"There was a high level of energy, and you could just tell they wanted to play. Really as a coach that's when it's fun when you see it clicking like that."

The Volunteers raced to a 53-24 halftime edge, their largest halftime lead of the season thanks to a season-high in first-half points. They never let up, leading by as many as 49 points.

"We've had some games this year where we came out in the first half and played great and then came out in the second half and our defensive intensity slipped," said Alexander, who had 12 points and a season-high 14 rebounds. "So that's the only thing that (Barnes) said when he came into the locker room at halftime, he said we were going to see how mature we were and see if we could keep the intensity up, so that was kind of a challenge to us and I think we tried to do our best to keep that intensity up."

Tennessee limited Georgia to one 3-pointer in 20 attempts, but will be facing the SEC's leading 3-point shooter in Missouri's Mark Smith (46.2 percent).

The Tigers have made 83 threes over their last six games. All five of their games in which they have made at least 10 threes this season have come in the last seven games.

Missouri finished 2018 on a hot streak, posting its first undefeated month since the 2011-12 season with a 6-0 December.

The Tigers' last game was a 75-61 home victory against Morehead State in which Smith had a career-high 22 points, making four of his first five 3-point attempts.

Smith's outside shooting has been one factor that has helped Mizzou adjust to the loss of starting power forward Jontay Porter to a season-ending knee injury in October.

"You find ways to make adjustments, you deal with it, you move on," Tigers coach Cuonzo Martin told the Kansas City Star. "This is life. Stuff happens in life."

Martin said he's satisfied with where the Tigers are under the circumstances as they head into SEC play.

"I'm happy to be 9-3; we could easily be 3-9," he told the Star. "Not to say I thought we would be bad."

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