Tennessee able to rely on offense, finally
Posted: Wednesday, December 19, 2012 7:00 pm
By STEVE MEGARGEE
AP Sports Writer
KNOXVILLE (AP) — For perhaps the first time all year, Tennessee’s offense outperformed its defense.
Jarnell Stokes scored 18 points as one of five Tennessee players to reach double figures Tuesday in the Volunteers’ 78-62 victory over Presbyterian.
The Vols (6-3) led by as many as 34 points before allowing Presbyterian (2-9) to heat up in the second half. Held to 13 points in the first half, Presbyterian outscored Tennessee 49-35 over the final 20 minutes.
“It was good that our offense was going (because) that’s really been our problem,” Stokes said. “We can’t give up like we did in the second half as far as defense, regardless of if we’re up or not.”
Presbyterian’s late surge ended Tennessee’s streak of four consecutive games in which it had prevented opponents from exceeding 60 points. The Vols were seeking to hold five straight opponents to 60 points or less for the first time since 1981-82, four years before the start of the shot clock era.
The streak ended even though Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin warned his team not to let up in the second half.
“At the half, I said, ‘Guys, let’s not let the score at the end of the game be 75-60,”’ Martin said.
While the defense let up in the second half, a Tennessee offense that had struggled for much of the season continued its recent surge.
Trae Golden, who was named SEC player of the week Monday on the strength of his 25-point performance in a victory over Wichita State, built on his momentum against Presbyterian by scoring 16 points and dishing out eight assists without committing a single turnover.
“I was just continuing to play aggressive,” Golden said. “That’s huge. Just be aggressive. Be a leader out there and just give everybody shots. Hopefully, they’ll fall.”
Tennessee’s Skylar McBee and Jordan McRae had 12 points each, and D’Montre Edwards added a career-high 11 points off the bench. McRae was making his first start of the season in place of Kenny Hall, who sat out the game with a hamstring injury.
Presbyterian’s Khalid Mutakabbir scored 18 points, all in the second half.
After shooting 6-of-26 overall and 1-of-13 in the first half, Presbyterian went 18-of-28 overall and 7-of-10 from beyond the arc in the second half. The Blue Hose also committed just five turnovers all night.
“We got a lot of the same shots we got in the first half,” Presbyterian coach Gregg Nibert said. “We were just 7-for-10 from the three instead of 1-for-13. And what that does is give you a lot of confidence.”
The Vols felt differently.
“The second half, we played horrible defense,” Stokes said.
Tennessee still won easily because of its offense, which had been the subject of much criticism all season.
Even as it continually prevented opponents from exceeding 60 points, Tennessee had gone just 2-2 over its last four games because of its own scoring woes. Tennessee beat Oakland 77-50, lost 37-36 to Georgetown, fell 46-38 at Virginia and defeated Wichita State 69-60.
Tennessee entered the night having made just 29.4 percent (37-of-126) of its 3-point attempts this season. Over their last three games, the Vols were making just 17.8 percent of their tries (8-of-45) from beyond the arc.
But the Vols went 9-of-22 from 3-point range against Presbyterian. McBee scored all 12 of his points from beyond the arc on 4-of-10 shooting as Tennessee had little trouble with Presbyterian’s zone.
“These guys are capable of making shots, but they had looks,” Martin said. “I thought it was good for Skylar to focus on a zone and practice against a zone, getting different looks within a zone.”
While Tennessee shot well all night, Presbyterian’s offense didn’t get going until the game was already out of reach.
The Blue Hose made their first shot of the night to take a 2-0 lead, but they missed 13 of their next 14 attempts as Tennessee went on a 23-3 run.
Tennessee led 43-13 at halftime.
Presbyterian’s 13 first-half points were the fewest by a Tennessee opponent since Georgia also managed just 13 points before halftime in a 77-48 loss to the Vols on Feb. 4, 1998.
The Blue Hose recovered well enough in the second half to teach Tennessee a lesson, even if they never had a realistic chance to come all the way back.
“We have to be tough and hard-nosed all the time,” Martin said. “We can’t play a glamorous style game and all of a sudden expect to win ballgames. We have to be tough, hard-nosed and physical. We played loose in the second half, and that was the result.”
Published in The Messenger 12.19.12