Tennessee forward Jarnell Stokes (5) shoots over Arkansas forward Hunter Mickelson (21) while guard Brandon Mitchell (25) defends during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game at Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville, Tenn., Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2012.Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.
KNOXVILLE — Arkansas scored the last seven points of the first half against Tennessee on Wednesday night.
It turned out to be a rather meaningless run.
Even without one of its key post players, the Volunteers jumped on the Razorbacks early and often at Thompson-Boling Arena in cruising to a 77-58 SEC win, their fourth in a row.
"The past three or four games we've done a really good job working the motion offense," said Cuonzo Martin, UT's first-year coach. "It's a credit to our guys the way we're cutting and moving. When you make the extra pass, good things happen. We were penetrating, pitching and finding shooters."
UT shot 56 percent for the game, made 11 3-pointers and put six players in double figures. The Vols have made 48 percent and 56 percent of their shots the past two games, by far their best offensive stretch of the season.
"I don't think so," senior wing Cam Tatum said when asked if anybody could beat UT at their current level of play. "But the thing is we can't talk like that and we can't get so consumed with these wins. We've got to continue to move on and take one game at a time."
Jordan McRae led UT (14-12, 6-5 SEC) with 14 points off the bench. Trae Golden had 13 points and seven assists, Jeronne Maymon and Skylar McBee scored 12 points apiece and freshman Jarnell Stokes added 10. Tatum broke out of his slump with 11 points and nine rebounds.
Martin praised Golden, who left the game briefly in the second half after spraining an ankle that required immediate postgame treatment, for facilitating UT's suddenly well-oiled offense.
"He's done a really good job taking leadership as the point guard," the coach said. "He's got his guys directing traffic, running the offense and that's good to see."
UT (14-12, 6-5 SEC) went on a 19-0 first-half run and led 23-6 barely seven minutes into the contest. The lead stretched to as many as 24 as the Vols made 16 of their first 20 shots and seven of their first 10 3-point attempts. UT found open looks from near and far and finished with 19 assists on 28 field goals.
"That's just a show of the team chemistry coming together and Coach Martin wanting us to stick to the script of playing for each other [and] getting each other wide-open looks," Tatum said. "We see the results of that. We've also seen the results of when we're not playing for each other and trying to play one-on-one ball. It doesn't really work for us."
While the Vols were running away, Arkansas (17-9, 5-6), which is 0-9 in road and neutral-site this season, sputtered. The young Razorbacks, who rely on four freshmen and two sophomores in their rotation, had 11 turnovers that led to 19 UT points in the first half. The mistakes kept Arkansas from making an impact with coach Mike Anderson's trademark fullcourt press.
Arkansas, which got 18 points from B.J. Young and a dozen from Hunter Mickelson, chipped away at UT's lead in the second half. Brandon Mitchell's layup with 8:22 left made it 60-50, but McBee sank a trey, McRae finished a drive down the lane with an emphatic two-handed slam and McBee hit another 3-pointer with 5:07 left to push UT's lead back to 16.
UT announced before the game that junior Kenny Hall, who had started the last two games at center, had been suspended indefinitely for what a school release termed "conduct detrimental to the team." Hall was not on the bench Wednesday night. Martin said after the game Hall would not travel to Alabama for Saturday's game and that the incident surprised him.
"You've got to do the right things on and off the court," he said. "That's the bottom line. We continue to push forward."
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 ...