published Friday, March 21st, 2014

Elated UT Vols not worried about fatigue

  • photo
    Tennessee's Jarnell Stokes drives to the basket during practice at the NCAA men's college basketball tournament in Raleigh, N.C., Thursday, March 20, 2014. Tennessee plays Massachusetts in a second-round game on Friday.
    Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

RALEIGH, N.C. — Tennessee's players bounded off the floor inside PNC Arena early Thursday like they hadn't won an emotional, hard-fought basketball game more than 500 miles away less than 24 hours earlier.

Such is the adrenaline of the NCAA tournament.

A little more than 36 hours after landing here after Wednesday night's overtime win against Iowa in the most-watched "First Four" in the four seasons since the NCAA expanded its tournament field to 68 teams, the 11th-seeded Volunteers are hoping to continue their tournament run against sixth-seeded Massachusetts this afternoon.

"We couldn't really sleep on the plane," Tennessee leading scorer Jordan McRae told the Times Free Press after Thursday's shootaround in Raleigh. "We were all up talking and laughing and stuff. We went to bed around 4 and got in around 3. I got up around 9. I don't sleep late.

"We're good, just knowing what's at stake," he added. "Everybody was tired, but everybody's adrenaline is running high."

Shortly after outscoring the Hawkeyes 14-1 in overtime to win 78-65, the Vols were on a jet headed for North Carolina and landed at 2:45 a.m. The team was given until noon to sleep, though a couple players couldn't make it that long. Coach Cuonzo Martin said he got four and a half hours of sleep.

Trainer Chad Newman and strength coach Nicodemus Christopher certainly were busy managing the players through recovery and body-management procedures Thursday, but Martin didn't seem overly concerned about his team's fatigue heading into a game against the up-tempo, pressing Minutemen, even after a physical, draining overtime game.

"Physical is what we do, so it's not a case of we mustered up the energy to be physical," the coach said. "It is what it is. Again, when you're talking about the SEC tournament, conference tournament play, you're talking about preseason tournament games -- it's always three in a row.

"There's not a lot of prep time. It's what you've done all season long. Our body of work got us to this point, and now it'll get us over the hump."

Jeronne Maymon, the Vols' senior forward, said the leftover emotions from Wednesday night's win kept him from sleeping later than 10 a.m., and he surely wasn't alone.

Tennessee dug itself a 12-point hole early in the game and trailed 57-52 when Martin called for a timeout with 4:33 left.

The Vols were just 3-11 in games decided by 10 points or less up to that point, and Iowa had parried every surge its opponents made in a tight second half.

Given its history this season, it looked like an unlikely spot from which Tennessee would win, but the Vols found a way late with some big shots and timely defense.

It was just Tennessee's second win this season in a game in which it's trailed at halftime, the other coming back in November against South Carolina-Upstate.

"It's the NCAA tournament: You're fighting against a very talented team, a team in Iowa playing with a lot of energy and emotion," Martin said. "You're talking your two seniors in Jordan and Jeronne, those guys were on an NCAA tournament team as a freshman and a sophomore [in 2011], but they didn't have an impact.

"Just to see those guys as seniors to go out there and play and have an impact on the game to get our program where it is, I'm just so happy for those guys. The way they played, the way they competed, it was great for our guys and our program."

The Vols will have to come down from an immense high to find a proper focus level against a UMass team that was 7-4 against NCAA tournament teams.

"Our mindset is now that it is one game and it is behind us," guard Armani Moore said. "We have to get ready for the next one. We have to focus our game plan and get ready for them. Most important, I feel like we have to rejuvenate our bodies.

"It took a lot out of us last night, especially going into overtime. We know that we have a lot on our hands, especially coming off a one-day break and a long game. It is a lot, but I feel that we are mentally ready for it. Wwe are focused and know what we need to do to win this game."

Based on their collective demeanor Thursday evening, the Vols seem to be enjoying the NCAA tournament whirlwind.

"It's new and it's great," Martin said. "This is my first time as a head coach in the NCAA tournament. Obviously I played in it as a player and coached in it as an assistant coach, but it's great to be a part of as a head coach. For me it's just exciting. I don't sleep anyway all season, so it doesn't really affect me from that standpoint.

"I'm happy for our guys, and making sure they're happy, and they're very happy. It's really a fun time, not only for our guys and our staff, but also the university and our fans. It's great for everybody."

Contact Patrick Brown at pbrown@timesfreepress.com

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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