KNOXVILLE — Jarnell Stokes did plenty on Saturday afternoon to help Tennessee's basketball team.
It's what the Volunteers' forward didn't do on the game's final play that turned out to be his biggest contribution.
Stokes scored 15 points, grabbed 18 rebounds and narrowly avoided fouling Trevor Lacey on the Alabama guard's game-winning shot attempt as Tennessee earned a much-needed 54-53 win at Thompson-Boling Arena.
Finally, a close game ended Tennessee's way.
"I just knew that would be a foul," a relieved Stokes recalled. "If we were at Ole Miss, that would have been a foul. Thankfully today the officials got the call right.
"I didn't leave my feet. I just put my hands up. I didn't even see the ball, and I didn't know where the ball went."
Jordan McRae's runner with a minute left put the Vols (10-8, 2-4 SEC) up 52-50 and set up an eventful ending.
Trae Golden made two free throws after Alabama's Rodney Cooper missed the front end of a one-and-one free-throw opportunity, but Tennessee's point guard clanked his first foul shot after Trevor Releford's 3-pointer with 18 seconds on the clock.
The Crimson Tide (12-7, 4-2) gained possession with 15 seconds remaining after the rebound of Golden's miss went off Tennessee out of bounds.
Out of a timeout, Stokes switched onto to Lacey, who drove in the corner and drew contact.
"I'd seen him pump fake, the ball went out of bounds, the buzzer rung and the ref was looking like he didn't know what was going on," said McRae, who was on the opposite side of the floor.
Alabama coach Anthony Grant said he wanted to see a replay of the final play before commenting on it during his postgame press conference.
"I want to see it again," he said.
For Cuonzo Martin, seeing it live was enough.
"Great call," Tennessee's coach said with a grin.
"I thought Jarnell did a good job of switching on it [and] forcing him to drive that ball," he continued. "You've got to get the stop and keep your hands up high. We figured they'd come with that play.
"They ran it [earlier], and Trevor Lacey hit a 3-pointer."
That trey tied the game at 50 and answered the 11-1 run Tennessee used to take its first lead since the first minute of the game. The Tide, who beat Tennessee 68-65 in Tuscaloosa two weeks ago and won three SEC games by a combined eight points, led by as many as 10 in the first half and took a 46-39 advantage into the final six minutes.
McRae, who scored 15 of his 17 points after halftime, sparked the run with a 3-pointer, and Stokes scored twice inside to give Tennessee, losers of close road games in conference play, the lead.
"I told Jarnell, 'You've got to stop thinking. Just play your game and do what you do best,'" Golden said. "That's what he went out there and did."
Coincidentally, Stokes' big outing came on the heels of Martin contacting the SEC's coordinator of officials. The reason was how fouls were being whistled on Stokes, the coach told the Knoxville News Sentinel on Friday. The 6-foot-8, 270-pound bruiser picked up two quick fouls and another cheapie or two in Tennessee's loss at Ole Miss on Thursday night.
"It's hard to guard a guy like that," Martin said before a slight pause, "if he's allowed to play. My thing, a foul is a foul. If it's a foul, you call, whoever it's on, but just because he's a big, physical guy, a foul can't be different for him than it is than a guy that's 5-foot-6.
"If he's allowed to be aggressive and do the things he needs to do, he's a special talent. When I watch certain things … he gets hit, but he has such a strong frame he's not moving like most guys, then it's probably not considered a foul."
The officials allowed a good bit of contact and physicality on Saturday, and Stokes said he was "shocked" to go into halftime with no fouls.
It's his rebounding -- the 18 were a career high -- to which he was paying less attention.
"I didn't really keep up with my number," he said. "I just wanted to put in my head to go after every rebound. 'Don't stop till your tongue falls off.' That's something my dad told me last game, so that really stuck with me.
"Today was definitely one of my most dominating performances in rebounding."
That performance earned him the trust of Tennessee's coaching staff to make the game's final play.
"It was just fitting," Martin said, "that he was the guy to get that stop."
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 ...