KNOXVILLE — After a tough road loss to Xavier on Tuesday, the Tennessee basketball Volunteers responded to a welcoming Thompson-Boling Arena crowd with a 74-65 home-opening victory Saturday night against South Carolina Upstate.
"I must be a fool as a coach to play Xavier and then Upstate as our first home game," Vols coach Cuonzo Martin said. "They're a very talented team. I watched these guys on film. What were we thinking? The way they cut, the way they screen, they do a tremendous job of playing off their two best scorers, [Ty] Greene and [Torrey] Craig."
The Vols quickly fell to a 13-point deficit that they cut to seven at the half. Post men Jarnell Stokes and Jeronne Maymon kept them alive, accounting for more than half (21) of their 35 points and pulling in 10 rebounds.
"I thought Jarnell and Jeronne did a good job rebounding," Martin said. "If I'm not mistaken, this is the first time they've had a double-double in the same game. They did a great job at really crashing the glass.
"I thought Jeronne did a great job playing through fatigue, battling. I think Jarnell stepped up to the challenge in the second half. We really got outplayed by both of their big guys, but I think we stepped up in the second half. I'm proud of them for that."
Stokes posted 17 points and tied his career high with 18 rebounds in his 19th college double-double. Maymon put up 15 points and 11 rebounds in his first double-double since the Vols' loss to Ole Miss in March of 2012. The two also shot above 80 percent from the free throw line (12-of-14).
"Those guys rebound, and that's what they do," Martin said. "We've got to get on the boards and do a better job at getting those long rebounds. They battled them, they put bodies on them, but they had big bodies as well, and our guards have to do a better job a rebounding"
Momentum began to swing in the Vols' favor in the second half. The Spartans' lead had dwindled to one point when Antonio Barton hit a 3-pointer that put life back into the crowd and the Vols ahead 61-59. They wouldn't relinquish the lead.
"I watched these guys on film. They're pretty good," Stokes said. "The big guys really move their bodies well. They duck their shoulders a lot. That was one of the more physical games I've played in college, but I'm glad I was able to overcome in the second half."
Preseason All-SEC first-team guard Jordan McRae led the Vols with 18 points. McRae missed his first four shots and managed only four points from the free-throw line, but he slashed the Spartans for 14 points in the second half.
Craig scored 20 points and Greene added 15 for Upstate (1-2).
The Vols struggled to make shots, completing only 35 percent from the field, but improved their free-throw accuracy to 81 percent (29-of-36), up from the disappointing 36 percent against Xavier.