KNOXVILLE — The Tennessee basketball Volunteers overpowered Tennessee Tech 84-63 on Saturday in their first game since a fifth-place finish in the Battle 4 Atlantis.
The visiting Golden Eagles combated the Vols' dominant post presence early by sinking eight of 10 3-point shots in the first half.
"I don't think we did a very good job of defending the ball screen," Vols coach Cuonzo Martin said. "We did a poor job of staying with our guys on a drift pass. We did a much better job in the second half."
The Vols answered Tennessee Tech's first-half surge with a consistent push into the paint and a 22-1 run to start the second half. The onslaught from Tennessee Tech guards Jeremia Samarrippas and Jordan Johnson, who accounted for six of the eight 3s in the first half, dwindled in the second half.
'We know Johnson had 15 in the first half, and that hurt us," Vols guard Josh Richardson said. "So coming out [after halftime], I definitely told Jordan [McRae], 'He doesn't get another shot off.' He was like, 'All right, I got you.' He definitely locked him up in the second half."
McRae, who methodically slashed the Golden Eagles for 16 points, indeed shut down the other Jordan. Johnson shot 100 percent from the field in the first half but was held scoreless throughout the second.
The Vols outscored the Golden Eagles 48-26 in the paint and outrebounded them 43-29. Tennessee post Jarnell Stokes registered his fourth consecutive and 23rd career double-double with 19 points and 13 rebounds.
"I think over these last couple games with me scoring the ball, I feel like guys realize that will help us win a lot," Stokes said. "Jordan [McRae] is a great scorer, probably one of the best scorers in the nation, but we also need an inside presence, and Coach has really been stressing that.
"I want to rebound. That's what I enjoy doing. I let guys like Jordan score, because he can score the ball with the best in the nation, but I feel like the team needs me to score also."
The Vols have won 23 of their last 26 games in which they've scored 80 or more points, and they are 13-1 when Stokes makes six or more field goals.
"When Jarnell is aggressive, he plays well," Martin said. "Whether he's making or missing shots, when he's aggressive he's actively attacking the rim, he's assertive. He normally has success."
Stokes' usual partner in the paint, Jeronne Maymon, was removed from the starting lineup after arriving late, giving freshman guard A.J. Davis his first career start. Maymon still managed 13 points and seven rebounds coming off the bench.
Contact Sam Gilbreath at firstname.lastname@example.org