KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Lamonte’ Turner made the most of a rare start for Tennessee.
Turner scored 23 points and the top-ranked Volunteers held West Virginia scoreless for a 9 1/2-minute stretch Saturday on its way to an 83-66 victory.
The 21-year-old Turner also had five assists in his first start since the 2017 SEC Tournament. Coach Rick Barnes said he replaced Yves Pons with Turner because he wanted a second ball handler against West Virginia’s defense, but he wasn’t sure if he would stay with the same starting lineup.
“Starting or coming off the bench, it really doesn’t matter to me, honestly,” said Turner, who found out about the start during Tennessee’s Saturday morning shootaround. “I’m just trying to come out and do whatever I can to help my teammates win, help my team win. I think tonight it called for me to start because they do a lot of pressing, and two ball handlers would really help us.”
Even while coming off the bench, Turner had been playing significantly more minutes than Pons. Turner was the 2018 SEC co-sixth man of the year but missed nine of Tennessee’s first 12 games this season as he recovered from a shoulder injury.
Turner went 8 for 10 from the field to help Tennessee (18-1) erase its first double-digit deficit of the season. Tennessee took command by ending the first half on a 24-2 run and scoring the first four points of the second half.
That put the Vols on track for their 14th consecutive victory in the school’s longest win streak since it opened the 1922-23 season with 14 straight wins.
“I think they’re as good as anybody in the country,” West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said.
Grant Williams scored 19 points for Tennessee, and Jordan Bowden had 15. Admiral Schofield finished with 14 points and 10 rebounds.
Esa Ahmad scored 16 points and Derek Culver had 15 for West Virginia (9-11), which lost for the seventh time in its last eight games.
The Mountaineers began the day shooting just 31.9 percent from 3-point range, but they made five of their first seven attempts from beyond the arc to grab a 19-7 advantage.
After taking that 19-7 lead with 11:05 left in the half, West Virginia scored just two more points before halftime. The Mountaineers missed 13 straight shots at one point.
“I think that’s the best we’ve played on defense all year,” Williams said.
Huggins said the Mountaineers “created a lot of our own problems” during that collapse late in the first half. Huggins noted that an inbounds pass hit an open player in the foot on one occasion, and that West Virginia didn’t bother passing to an open player in another sequence.
“We just don’t sustain things,” Huggins said. “We’ve played pretty well in spurts, but they’ve just been spurts. Spurts get killed whenever a guy is wide open and you hit him in the foot. How do you do that? Listen, I played a long time, and I’ve never hit anyone in the foot. I just don’t get that. Then we’ve got a guy open and we don’t throw him the ball.”
West Virginia: The Mountaineers’ inability to put the ball in the basket for much of the first half prevented them from having a realistic shot at pulling the upset. West Virginia recovered to shoot 59.3 percent in the second half, but the Mountaineers already had dug themselves too deep a hole by then.
Tennessee: Although Tennessee’s defense late in the first half essentially decided the game, its offense also recovered from a slow start. Tennessee scored just seven points in the first 9 1/2 minutes of the game but finished with 83.
West Virginia guard James Bolden was helped to the locker room after taking a spill under the basket with 15:40 left. Huggins said Bolden sprained an ankle.
The Mountaineers played an 11th straight game without injured forward Sagaba Konate, who leads West Virginia in scoring (13.6) and ranks second on the team in rebounding (8.0).
“We generally take pride in being able to guard,” Huggins said. “This group’s pretty much made me a liar.”
West Virginia is at Iowa State on Wednesday.
Tennessee is at South Carolina on Tuesday.
Follow Steve Megargee at https://twitter.com/stevemegargee
More AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/Collegebasketball and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25