KNOXVILLE — Trae Golden looked up at the Thompson-Boling Arena scoreboard after making a jump shot with 14:30 remaining in Tennessee's basketball game against Wichita State on Thursday night and smiled.
His grin certainly was much wider when the clock hit all zeros.
Golden scored 25 points and Jordan McRae added 17 off the bench to pace the Volunteers in a 69-60 win against previously unbeaten and 23rd-ranked Wichita State.
After scoring 36 and 38 points in road losses to Georgetown and Virginia, Tennessee's players had to feel good after the relative offensive outburst.
"When we scored 40, I'll tell you, I looked up and was like, 'This is a relief to get over that hump,'" Golden said. "We were obviously aware of it, but we just knew we can score. We know we can score, and it's just a matter of doing it."
He and McRae were the ones doing it Thursday. With forwards Jarnell Stokes and Kenny Hall battling foul trouble and cramps, the backcourt duo handled the scoring load by attacking the paint. The two totaled 24 free throws.
"Those guys weren't letting us lose this game," Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin said. "They were in attack mode. If you have opportunities to drive it, you have to drive it."
Said McRae: "We took it upon ourselves. We haven't been shooting the ball well the past two games; he's been preaching to us, telling us to get to the line more. We took it upon ourselves to do that."
Tennessee (5-3) shot 47.5 percent and made 29 of 36 free throws. Golden made 13 of his 16 free throws, and the Vols made 22 of 28 shots after halftime. They missed eight free throws in a one-point loss to Georgetown and shot only eight in the Virginia loss.
"Free throws can lose you a game," Golden said.
They also can win games. McRae's 3-pointer with 5:56 remaining gave Tennessee a 58-52 lead, but the Vols didn't make a field goal the rest of the game. After the Shockers (9-1) took a 59-58 lead, Tennessee built a seven-point margin at the stripe and scored its last 11 points from there.
"Hey, I don't care how we win," Golden said of the ending, "as long as we do."
If not for Yemi Makanjuola's hidden contributions beyond the box score, another win might have gotten away from Tennessee. The Vols' sophomore center from Nigeria scored nine points and grabbed eight rebounds, and he made some big little plays down the stretch. He made a nice pass to a cutting Golden for a layup and took a charge.
Those moments and his defense on Wichita State's Carl Hall earned Martin's praise.
"Exceptional," the coach called Makanjuola's performance.
"He plays so hard," Martin said later of WSU's Hall, who had 21 points, nine rebounds (seven offensive), three blocked shots and countless hustle plays. "If you can't match his level of toughness and intensity, he'll beat you every time. He outplayed us in certain areas tonight."
Hall essentially fouled Stokes out of the game in 18 minutes, but Makanjuola limited his effectiveness. The Shockers eventually went away from their workhorse down the stretch and settled for 3-pointers as Tennessee won the game at the free-throw line. A raw player offensively who's improved his English, Makanjuola takes pride in the dirty work of rebounding and playing physical defense.
"That's something I know how to do," Makanjuola said. "Every time I have a chance to play defense on somebody, I take it personal. If he's stopping me from scoring, then he shouldn't be able to score on me, too.
"I watched the way [Hall] played Jarnell, and I'd seen what he likes to do and what he can do, so I play into what he can do and take away what he likes to do."
While Tennessee held the Shockers to 38-percent shooting, Golden played what Martin called his best game of the season in leading the Vols to a quality win.
"I was just attacking and doing what the defense gave me," Golden said. "I'm just glad we won. We let a couple of wins slip through our hands."
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 ...