No. 13 Tennessee capitalized on sizzling 3-point shooting Sunday to beat Navy 85-55 and win a home opener for the 17th consecutive season. Tennessee (2-0) hasn’t lost a home opener since a 69-64 decision against Louisiana Tech in 1999.
The Lady Vols hit 12 of 14 shots from 3-point range, with Alexa Middleton going 6-for-7 on her way to a career-high 21 points. After making just 25.4 percent of its 3-pointers last season to rank last in the Southeastern Conference, Tennessee has shot 56.4 percent (22-of-39) from 3-point range this season.
“I know a lot of people last year said we couldn’t shoot the ball,” Middleton said. “We’re trying to make sure we can hit those open shots because people are sagging in on (center Mercedes Russell), and she’s going to kick the ball out. We’ve got to be able to hit those shots if we want to do well.”
This marks the first time Tennessee has made at least 10 3-point baskets in consecutive games since November 2011. Tennessee was 10-of-25 from 3-point range Friday in a season-opening victory at James Madison.
Russell had 18 points and 10 rebounds for Tennessee. Jordan Reynolds had 12 points, eight rebounds and seven assists. Diamond DeShields added 14 points.
Ashanti Kennedy scored 16 points and Taylor Dunham added 14 for Navy (0-2).
This game was a mismatch in terms of height.
Navy’s tallest player was 6-foot freshman forward Laurel Jaunich, and its other four starters were 5-8 or shorter. Tennessee’s starting lineup included four players taller than 6 feet, including the 6-6 Russell.
Navy still briefly led in the second quarter and only trailed 43-35 at the half, which caused the Lady Vols to receive a stern halftime lecture from coach Holly Warlick.
“My expectations for them are high, and these kids understand it,” Warlick said. “I saw things I haven’t seen in practice for whatever reason. I’m just not going to tolerate no effort.”
Tennessee gradually put the game out of reach as Navy cooled off. After shooting 5-for-11 from 3-point range in the first half, Navy was 1-for-9 the rest of the way.
“Playing against Tennessee, everyone was really excited,” Dunham said. “We had a lot of energy and we were hitting shots. Everyone was making big plays. I wouldn’t say our energy was that much different in the second half, but Tennessee definitely picked theirs up.”