KNOXVILLE — If coaching basketball ultimately doesn't work out, Tennessee's Cuonzo Martin might have a future in predicting the future.
His Volunteers leading overmatched Presbyterian 43-13 at halftime Tuesday night, Martin told his team what he wanted to see in the second half.
"I said, 'Guys, let's not this score at the end of the game be 75-60,'" he said.
Final score: Vols 78, Blue Hose 62.
"I don't know how he called that one," forward Jarnell Stokes admitted after leading five Vols in double-figure scoring with 18 points.
The Vols (6-3) do know that they allowed Presbyterian (2-9) to shoot 64 percent (18-of-24), make seven 3-pointers and score 49 points in the final 20 minutes.
"I thought our guys did a tremendous job in the first half of being in tune and carrying out assignments," Martin said. "The second half, it never fails. [It's] that slippage and just the mental maturity of a team taking that next step and dominating the game and not taking it for granted.
"It's just those necessary steps you have to take as a team. It's a valuable lesson. We have to be tough and hard-nosed all the time."
Tennessee lost its intensity after holding Presbyterian -- which hasn't played a Division I opponent closer than 14 points in its first full season of D-I membership -- to 23 percent shooting in the first half.
"You want to get off to a good start," said swingman D'Montre Edwards, who scored 11 points. "Once we got them in the doghouse, we let up a little bit. Second half, we've just got to continue to compete and defend.
"It's a mental thing."
The offensive woes that plagued Tennessee in 36- and 38-point outings in road losses to Georgetown and Virginia were nonexistent in the first half. The Vols, who played without Kenny Hall (hamstring strain), shot 48 percent and were crisp in their ball movement and on target in their shooting and made five 3-pointers and all eight free throws.
Martin's poorly timed timeout as Skylar McBee, who made four 3-pointers for his 12 points despite a ligament injury in his shooting elbow, lined up a trey he swished was about all that stopped Tennessee offensively before halftime.
But that impressive first half of stingy defense, ball movement and good shooting was a distant memory by the time the final buzzer sounded.
"It shouldn't be hard, but as you can see we had a mental lapse," said Stokes, who grabbed seven rebounds and made all six of his foul shots. "That's just something we have to work on. We let up on them on the defensive end in the second half.
"Us having mental lapses in the second half, not covering ball screens the right way and giving up wide-open 3s, that really just took a good game overall that we had."
One moment early in the second half foreshadowed what would happen.
Leading 56-28, Tennessee's poor pick-and-roll defense left Presbyterian's William Truss wide open for an easy layup that prompted Martin to burn a quick timeout.
"He never really gets too out of character, but you can tell when he's upset," point guard Trae Golden said after scoring 16 points with five rebounds and eight assists. "He wasn't upset, but it was obvious. 'What are you guys doing? You know how we play defense.'"
Khalid Mutakabbir erupted for 18 second-half points, and the Blue Hose peppered Tennessee's basket from one particular spot in the corner.
Yet Tennessee's lead never dipped below 19 points until the final minute.
"You just have to be able to not think about the score and keep playing," Golden said. "It sounds easier than it is. You're Presbyterian and down 20 or 30 points, and you're like, 'Well, what do we have to lose right now?'
"You have to buckle down, and that has to be your main priority."
It might not hurt to listen to Martin's predictions, either.
"We can't play a glamorous style of game and all of the sudden expect to win ballgames," he said. "We have to be tough, hard-nosed and physical. We played an up-and-down loose style in the second half, and that's the result."
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 ...