KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) -- Jordan Bone scored 18 points and Kyle Alexander added 16 as No. 6 Tennessee opened the season with an 86-41 victory over Lenoir-Rhyne on Tuesday night.
Tennessee coach Rick Barnes lettered for three seasons at Lenoir-Rhyne. Barnes is a native of Hickory, North Carolina, where Lenoir-Rhyne is located.
The game against the Division II opponent counts on Tennessee’s overall record, but Lenoir-Rhyne counted the game as an exhibition.
In front of a crowd of 16,156, the Volunteers (1-0) opened a season of heightened expectations. The defending Southeastern Conference co-champions return all five starters, and their No. 6 ranking is the highest ever in the preseason poll.
Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield filled up the stat sheet for the Vols. Williams had 13 points, seven rebounds and five assists. Schofield had 13 points, nine rebounds and four assists.
Lenoir-Rhyne’s 3-point shooting kept things close early in the first meeting between the programs. The Bears hit 6 of their first 10 shots from deep, forcing Barnes to call a timeout when R.J. Gunn and Jalen Johnson hit back-to-back 3-pointers to draw within 20-18.
Bolstered by a flurry of steals, the Vols emerged from the break on an 8-0 run. Alexander punctuated the spurt with dunk on the break off an alley-oop pass from Jordan Bowden. The Vols continued to pull away, taking a 50-30 lead into halftime.
Tennessee didn’t let up to start the second half, opening with a 19-0 run that spanned nearly nine minutes. Lenoir-Rhyne burned two timeouts within the first six minutes to try and stem the tide, but Tennessee kept coming in waves.
Throughout the game, the Vols demonstrated their athleticism with high-flying dunks and blocks. Yves Pons, a sophomore from France, brought the fans to their feet midway through the second half with an emphatic swat on one end followed by a putback on the other.
After its early 3-point prowess, Lenoir-Rhyne made only one of its last 25 attempts from beyond the arc. The Bears shot only 20.9 percent (14 of 67) from the field overall and didn’t have a player reach double figures in points. Manny Wembi led the Bears with nine.
Lenoir-Rhyne: The trip to Knoxville was a no-lose situation for the Bears. They got to play a Division I opponent in a major venue and weren’t expected to win. Lenoir-Rhyne gave its players a great experience that won’t impact its overall record. The Bears won’t see a better team all season.
Tennessee: The Vols are easing into the season with their first two games against Lenoir-Rhyne and Louisiana-Lafayette before a challenging stretch begins with games against Georgia Tech, Louisville and No. 1 Kansas or Marquette.
Lenoir-Rhyne hosts Young Harris on Friday.
Tennessee hosts Louisiana-Lafayette on Friday.