published Thursday, February 14th, 2013

Vols victorious: UT races out to early lead, beats Vanderbilt

Tennessee guard Trae Golden (11) drives past Vanderbilt guard Kevin Bright during the first half of an NCAA basketball game Wednesday in Nashville.
Tennessee guard Trae Golden (11) drives past Vanderbilt guard Kevin Bright during the first half of an NCAA basketball game Wednesday in Nashville.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

NASHVILLE — Jarnell Stokes caught the pass, took aim and let one fly from 19 feet away at the top of the key.

Bank and swish.

"I'm not much of a jump shooter," Tennessee's big bruising forward would concede later.

"I work on it all the time and I know I can make it, but I'm more interested in getting to the rim."

It was that kind of first half for Stokes and the Volunteers.

The second half was was much more sloppy and usual in comparison, but Tennessee won't mind that at all after one of its best halves of the season paved the way for a 58-46 win at Vanderbilt on Wednesday night at Memorial Gym.

"Not recently," Vols point guard Trae Golden answered when asked if he could recall an half in which Tennessee was as efficient as it was Wednesday night.

"It was a good start for the game for us, and we were able to ride that out for the rest of the game."

A 16-4 run gave Tennessee (13-10, 5-6 SEC) a double-digit lead, and the Vols led 40-28 at intermission. The Vols made 16 of 30 shots and four of eight 3-pointers, but the biggest key was the Vols' two turnovers. It was a drastic difference from the 20- and 21-turnover performances that have doomed Tennessee in its previous SEC road trips.

Tennessee snapped a nine-game streak of 10 or more turnovers and used better care of the ball to score its most points in the first half of an SEC game in more than a year.

"It's one thing to miss shots, but you still have to be aggressive and locked in offensively," Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin said. "We've been up and down in that department whether it's road or home games. You have to take care of the ball in order to have success.

"You can't go into games [with] 14 or 19 or 21 turnovers, because it's hard to get a true flow when that happens ... especially on the road."

After going winless in their first six road games this season, Tennessee carried its momentum from Sunday's victory at South Carolina into Wednesday's opening 20 minutes.

"I definitely think the last game was a factor," said Stokes, who finished with 17 points, 10 rebounds and three emphatic dunks. "That's the way we should have been playing all year."

In addition to the low turnovers, Tennessee finally got its three best players going simultaneously on offense. Stokes, Golden and Jordan McRae combined for 35 of the Vols' 40 first-half points and combined to shoot 14-of-24 before halftime. The trio finished with all but 15 of Tennessee's points.

"I think we're going to be a tough team, or a tougher team that we've been," said McRae, the Vols' leading scorer who failed to reach double-figure scoring in three of the Vols' four games entering Wednesday. "There's been times where I'll play good and somebody won't, or them two play good [and] I won't. Tonight was just a complete game all around."

Golden, fresh off scoring 16 in Tennessee's win at South Carolina following a two-game absence due to a hamstring injury, scored 11 of the Vols' first 19 points on a variety of floaters and drives with a 3-pointer. The junior point guard made his first start since the SEC opener, a span of nine games. Tennessee used a four-guard lineup throughout the game, making senior Kenny Hall the odd man out.

Golden finished with seven rebounds, while McRae grabbed a career high 11 boards to go with his 14 points for his first career double-double.

"In order to win in this environment, in my opinion, this being my second trip here, you have to have good guard play, and I thought we had that tonight," Martin said. "Our guys scored the ball, they defended and they rebounded. You have to have that, especially going away from our bench on both ends."

After its deficit increased to 16 early in the second half, Vanderbilt (9-14, 3-8), which lost by one in Knoxville 16 days ago, cut Tennessee's lead to 46-38, but the Commodores failed to get any closer.

Though it scored only 18 points, shot 32 percent and committed seven turnovers after halftime, Tennessee maintained its comfortable lead throughout the second half.

"It felt good," McRae said with a grin, "to play a game and control it from the tip to the end."

about Patrick Brown...

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 ...

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