Let’s take a quick look at Five Things from Tennessee’s 67-48 win over Georgia on Tuesday night in Thompson-Boling Arena.
Tennessee junior forward Jarnell Stokes (News Sentinel photo)
The Vols (16-10, 7-6 SEC) started pulling away from the had-been-hot Bulldogs (14-11, 8-5) late in the first half, built on that lead after the break and cruised down the stretch.
THEY NEEDED THAT
Let’s just come out and say it: Tennessee absolutely had to beat Georgia on Tuesday night after dropping close games last week at second-ranked Florida and then at Missouri.
This win wasn’t optional. It was necessary. And the Vols got it. And they got it rather comfortably, too, thanks to a big effort from All-SEC big man Jarnell Stokes and a punishing performance on the defensive end, particularly in the second half.
It hasn’t been the season Tennessee wanted or expected to this point, but all isn’t lost — at least not yet. The Vols are back up to fourth in the SEC standings, and they’re just one game out of third place. And they have a few very, very winnable games coming up.
Let’s not put Martin and his guys on a Wheaties box. But let’s give credit where it’s due after a solid performance against a team and opposing coach that have given them fits the past couple of years.
Vols' Antonio Barton (KNS photo)
Stokes didn’t exactly go wild Tuesday night.
But after somehow getting lost in the second half at Missouri — he didn’t attempt a single shot in the final 17 minutes of a close game — Stokes remained Tennessee’s primary option against the Bulldogs.
The Vols’ coaches demanded the guards get the ball to Stokes in the paint. But, for a change, Stokes also demanded the ball from his guards — including a few times during the flow of half-court play. It was double the demanding. And it worked.
Stokes had a game-high 20 points Tuesday, shooting 9-of-13 from the floor in 35 minutes. He also collected a game-high 11 rebounds to compete yet another double-double. He also had three assists, three blocked shots and one steal.
Were it not for a 2-of-5 night at the free-throw line, Stokes would have had nearly a complete game.
Most teams don’t have any single player who can defend Stokes on the block. When he gets touches in the paint and plays aggressively, Tennessee is a much better team.
Vols' Jordan McRae (KNS photo)
BANG BANG BART
Welcome back, Antonio Barton.
The Vols’ hot-and-cold senior point guard heated back up Tuesday, scoring 12 points on 4-of-7 shooting in 24 minutes off the bench.
Barton also had three assists Tuesday. Aside from two turnovers — and both came as he was running largely unopposed toward the rim — the senior had a very, very good night.
It was a long overdue performance for a player who has never shot less than 40 percent from the 3-point line in a college season but had missed his past eight attempts heading into Tuesday’s game.
Barton and Vols freshman starting point guard Darius Thompson also had a fantastic defensive performance against Georgia point guard Charles Mann, who had just five points, four rebounds and three assists in 22 minutes and shot just 2-of-6 from the field.
Tennessee had needed Barton to perform like this for a while, but the Vols really needed it Tuesday.
Vols' Armani Moore (KNS photo)
NOT SO MAMBA
After scoring 31 points and nearly singlehandedly keeping Tennessee in the game at Missouri on Saturday, senior All-SEC guard Jordan McRae looked nothing like the Orange Mamba against Georgia.
McRae scored 11 points in 31 minutes, but he got seven of those points from the free-throw line. He attempted just five shots from the field and was 0-of-2 from 3-point range. He also spent a few more minutes than usual on the bench early in the second half, and he didn’t look happy about it, either.
In fairness to McRae — and embattled Vols coach Cuonzo Martin — the senior still played 30-plus minutes and was still on the floor in crunch time. But McRae’s body language Wednesday night was the worst its been all season.
But no harm, no foul, right? Barton made up for McRae’s relative lack of offensive firepower, and the Vols got the win they needed to get.
Martin said after the game that everything was fine with McRae, and that he kept the senior on the bench early in the second half because other guys were giving the team better energy.
Vols' Jeronne Maymon (KNS photo)
In other words, let’s not manufacture controversy here.
As Barton said, McRae has been carrying the Vols all season, so it’s only fair that they carry him from time to time.
TOUGHER BREED ... AT LEAST TUESDAY
It’s no mystery that Tennessee hasn’t been the “Tougher Breed” that Martin and others built it to be this season, but the Vols certainly looked like that Tuesday.
After another dismal pre-conference performance, Georgia had been playing very, very well in league play. But the Bulldogs had no chance Tuesday. In fact, they finished with a season-low of 48 points and shot 6-of-24 (25 percent) from the floor in the second half.
To be clear, some of Georgia’s listless-looking performance probably stemmed from the Bulldogs having to deal with a recent bug going through the team and playing their third game in eight days.
But Bulldogs coach Mark Fox said those factors didn’t cause Georgia to get blasted in the second half. Tennessee should get credit for much of it.
Contact Wes Rucker at email@example.com, www.twitter.com/wesrucker247 or www.facebook.com/wesrucker247