KNOXVILLE — Jarnell Stokes must have been frustrated by Tennessee’s two-game losing streak and underutilization in the second half of a five-point road loss.
At least, the Volunteers’ big man played like it on Tuesday night.
Following a week where it saw two close games coming down the stretch turn into losses, Tennessee rode Stokes’ broad shoulders to a 67-48 home win against Georgia at Thompson-Boling Arena in front of a crowd of 13,852, the lowest announced attendance for an SEC game this season.
After he took just seven shots and one in the second half of the Vols’ 75-70 loss at Missouri on Saturday, Stokes got the ball early and often on Tuesday night and punished the Bulldogs’ long, lanky frontcourt.
He finished with 20 points and 11 rebounds in recording his 15th double-double of the season, and Antonio Barton emerged from his long spell of cold shooting to give the Vols an outside punch to match Stokes’ dominance inside and help Tennessee (16-10, 7-6 SEC) keep alive its NCAA tournament hopes heading into Saturday’s trip to Texas A&M.
Georgia (14-11, 8-5) was picked to finish 11th in the SEC in the league’s preseason poll after losing Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, the do-everything guard who was taken with the eighth pick of last June’s NBA draft by the Detroit Pistons, but Mark Fox’s Bulldogs entered Tuesday’s game third in the SEC standings on the heels of a four-game winning streak.
The Bulldogs swept the Vols last season, and those two losses likely kept Tennessee out of the NCAA tournament.
To keep that from happening again, Tennessee took control of the game midway through the second half.
After a 2-of-11 first half from 3-point range, the Vols started the second half 4-of-6 from beyond the arc, with Antonio Barton, who was 9-of-45 on 3s in SEC play entering the game, hitting his third and fourth triples of the night.
Josh Richardson’s trey pushed the Vols’ lead to 14 points with less than eight minutes left in the game.
An energetic start to the second half saw Kenny Gaines get an open look at a 3 from in front of the Bulldogs’ bench that would’ve tied the game at 38, but the shot rimmed out, and Tennessee scored the next seven points to restore its advantage. Derek Reese capped the spurt with his first 3 since the Texas A&M game on Jan. 11 to push the Vols’ lead to 45-35.
The first half featured four ties and six lead changes, but Tennessee scored the final six points to take a 34-28 lead into the break, which matched its largest lead of the first half.
Barton and Gaines each swapped a pair of early 3s, with Gaines’ trey from the wing briefly giving the Bulldogs a 17-16 lead.
Jeronne Maymon’s three-point play with 7:50 left in the first half gave the Vols a 21-19, and the hosts never relinquished it.
Stokes, who took just seven shots and only one in the second half of Tennessee’s 75-70 loss at Missouri on Saturday, got a touch in the post on the Vols’ second offensive possession of the game, but the bruising, 6-foot-8 junior from Memphis was only getting warmed up.
He bulled his way to 13 points and six rebounds in the first half. Georgia’s length inside provided some resistance, but Stokes was nearly unstoppable at times.
On one play, he dribbled out of a trap in the corner around two Georgia defenders and laid the ball in as an arm raked across the back of his head. The three-point play gave Tennessee a 28-23 lead with 5:26 left before the break, but Georgia battled back thanks to the hot shooting of J.J. Frazier.
The freshman, listed generously at 5-foot-10, entered the game averaging just 2.5 points in 8.2 minutes on the season, but he scored 10 points on four jumpers, including a pair of high-arching 3s. His stepback jumper from the wing over the 6-foot-8 Reese tied the game at 28-28 to set up the Vols’ strong close.
Stokes scored on an up-and-under move and a putback, and Jordan McRae, who scored 35 points in the Vols’ loss in Athens late last season, added a pair of free throws.
Armani Moore preserved Tennessee’s six-point advantage with an impressive hustle play. Much like a defensive back, the athletic, 6-foot-5 sophomore chased down Georgia’s Cameron Forte as he glided in for a wide-open layup. Moore acrobatically swatted the shot from behind to create the crowd’s loudest moment of the night to that point.
Contact Patrick Brown at email@example.com.
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...