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Fires in Gatlinburg bring Tennessee, TSU together — even in rout

From the start of the game until the end, the Tennessee Lady Vols dominated their in-state competitors from Tennessee State. But tonight’s game was much bigger than what was on the court.

NCAA Womens Basketball: Tennessee at Virginia Tech Michael Shroyer-USA TODAY Sports

Knoxville, TN — In Thompson-Boling Arena on Wednesday night, Tennesseans represented a state divided by school pride as the Tennessee Lady Vols took on their neighbors from down the road in Nashville, the Tennessee State Lady Tigers. However, even though a battle between two Tennessee teams was to take place, all team members, coaches, and spectators came together to show their support for all affected by the recent forest fires in East Tennessee.

Regardless if fans were wearing TSU’s bright blue or UT’s proud orange, all joined together as members of a single community- a community of people who call the state of Tennessee home. As much as the love for their state brought the fans in Thompson-Boling Arena together, so did the love of a great game of basketball!

Fans cheered on their home team as the Lady Vols staked their claim on the game within the first few minutes of play. Towering over almost every other player on the court, UT’s Mercedes Russell led the Lady Vols defense, allowing Tennessee State to only score 10 and eight points in the first and second quarters, respectively.

Russell’s height and defensive power paired with junior Jaime Nared’s and Diamond DeShield’s agility and speed on the offensive end, made Tennessee unstoppable.

By the end of the half, all members of the power trio scored in the double digits- DeShields and Russell with 12 points each and Nared with 10.

When the buzzer sounded at the end of the first half, it was the Lady Vols’ game. With a 48-18 lead, Tennessee left the court fist pumping and back-patting as Tennessee State headed to the locker room determined to muster the power and skill to turn the game around.

Faced with a team taller, stronger, and arguably more experienced, Tennessee State would not be able to measure up to the ladies in orange. Although they seemed to return from the locker room with a little more energy, spunk, and pep in their steps, the Lady Tigers were continuously shut down by the Lady Vols defense.

Throughout the entirety of the game, Tennessee pulled down a total 41 defensive rebounds. Also, every single member of the Lady Vols received time on the court.

“This was a great opportunity to make the game about us, “ stated DeShields. “For us, it was important for everyone to work on what’s been going wrong. We’ve recognized where we’ve been falling short, and tonight we put an emphasis on those things so that moving forward, we can pay more attention to them as we play bigger teams. It was just an opportunity for us to do better.”

As much as the Tigers tried their very best to “do better” as well, it was not enough. No matter the spunk, determination, and will-power Tennessee State demonstrated, they struggled mightily, ending the game with 21 turnovers. Senior Maxine Beard was the only Tiger to score in the double digits for her team (10). Yet, the effort of one player was not enough, and the Lady Vols dominated the Tigers in a 50-point blowout, 86-36.

“It was a great night for us, even though it was a bad night,” stated Tennessee State’s Head Coach Larry Joe Inman. “We are trying to play with the good folks so that if we make the NCAA Tournament, which we’re planning to, we will be able to compete like we need to.”

On Wednesday night, the Lady Vols perfected their game, and the Lady Tigers learned from their mistakes. However, both teams ended the night the same way they started it, by showing support for their state.

After the game, the first words out of Tennessee’s Head Coach Holly Warlick were the following: “I would just like to say that our thoughts and prayers are with the people in Gatlinburg. We want everyone to know that we are thinking about them.”