WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — The fouls piled up early for No. 21 Tennessee — one coming a single second into the game — to send some of the Volunteers’ top players to the bench. And Wake Forest controlled the boards to build some confidence and rhythm.
The halftime message to the Volunteers was simple: play tougher.
Jordan Bowden scored 17 points and Tennessee shot 59 percent in the second half to beat Wake Forest 79-60 on Saturday in their final pre-conference game.
The Volunteers (9-2) led by one at the half but took control by scoring on seven of 10 possessions coming out of the break. That pushed Tennessee to a 52-43 lead, a margin that never slipped to fewer than five as the Demon Deacons struggled for a sustained push.
“We just knew we were going for it,” said Grant Williams, who scored 11 points despite early foul trouble. “We talked about it in the locker room, that they’re out-toughing us. They were kind of punking us on the rebounding end … and they were driving to the basket and getting fouled.
“So we just knew we had to come out aggressive, and that’s what happened.”
Tennessee’s finishing kick was pretty good, too. After Mitchell Wilbekin’s layup cut the deficit to 66-60 with 4:33 left, Tennessee closed the game on a 13-0 run. Bowden and Admiral Schofield each hit key 3-pointers in the flurry, with Bowden’s straightaway 3 to beat the shot clock near the 2-minute mark pushing the lead to 75-60.
That was part of Bowden’s 5-for-5 shooting day — all from behind the arc — in 28 minutes after tying his career high of 21 points against Furman on Wednesday.
“He plays off his teammates,” coach Rick Barnes said. “We try to tell him to be more aggressive. But I think a lot of it is he knows himself, he knows when he needs to go — and he’s also willing to rest a little bit on offense at times where he can play hard on the defensive end.”
Keyshawn Woods scored 18 points for the Demon Deacons (7-5), who had won six straight while shooting better than 50 percent in each one. But Wake Forest shot just 38 percent in this one, including 9 for 28 (32 percent) after halftime while finishing with 20 turnovers.
Tennessee: The Volunteers enter Southeastern Conference play with their only two losses coming against the past two national champions: No. 1 Villanova at the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas and No. 5 North Carolina at home last weekend. They also earned their third win of the year against Atlantic Coast Conference teams.
Wake Forest: Wake Forest had seemingly stabilized itself after a wobbly 0-3 start with its longest win streak since the 2009-10 season, including a win against Illinois in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. But the Demon Deacons didn’t respond well to Tennessee’s second-half edge.
“We just weren’t making shots in the second half and when you’re not making shots, you’ve got to defend,” Woods said. “You’ve got to defend to get easy buckets. We didn’t do that.”
Williams was called for a foul at the 19:59 mark while using his right arm to establish position to retrieve the opening tip between teammate Kyle Alexander and Wake Forest’s Doral Moore. His second foul and a seat on the bench for the rest of the half came at the 12:32 mark.
Schofield followed with his second foul and joined Williams at the 9:23 mark, while Tennessee had 13 first-half fouls.
Barnes said the key to the game was “the way we ended the half, where the game didn’t get away from us where we had all those guys on the bench.”
Wake Forest top scorer Bryant Crawford (16.4 points) finished with three points on 1-for-6 shooting with seven turnovers while also having foul trouble.
Tennessee: The Volunteers visit Arkansas on Dec. 30.
Wake Forest: The Demon Deacons open ACC play at No. 5 North Carolina on Dec. 30.
Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/aaronbeardap