TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Let’s take a quick look at Five Things from Tennessee’s 76-59 win at Alabama on Saturday night in Coleman Coliseum.
Tennessee's Jarnell Stokes slams during the Vols' 76-59 win at Alabama on Saturday night. (UT photo)
The Vols (14-7, 5-3 SEC) jumped on the Crimson Tide (9-12, 3-5) early and rarely relented, going coast-to-coast for a second consecutive game to earn a second consecutive win — and this one came in a gym that has tormented Tennessee for years.
DON’T DIMINISH THIS WIN
Alabama is not a good basketball team. It’s a decent-at-best basketball team with a really good point guard.
But the Tide had been a good team at home. They’d won 15 of their past 16 SEC home games coming into Saturday night, and that one loss was a close one this season to conference-leading Florida.
And everyone knows how bad Tennessee has been for years in this building. The Vols had won three of their past 22 trips to Coleman, and they hadn’t won here since 2010.
This was important. For many reasons. And that shouldn’t be forgotten — especially considering it looked relatively easy. That just doesn’t happen for Tennessee in this building.
Vols' Jeronne Maymon (UT photo)
OMG WAS THAT A ZONE!?!?!?
Yes, yes it was a zone.
Vols coach Cuonzo Martin, who likes zone defenses as much as libertarians like taxes, debuted a 1-3-1 zone in the second half. And Tennessee looked great against zone. Their length befuddled an Alabama team that had no reason to expect a Martin-coached team to use a zone defense.
Martin said the Vols have worked on that 1-3-1 — a zone he hates just a little bit less than the 2-3, which he abhors — for a while, but that he didn’t want to debut it at Florida. That game had gotten out of hand, so the element of surprise wouldn’t have mattered.
Tennessee’s coach didn’t want to debut the zone against Ole Miss, either, because zoning Marshall Henderson understandably didn’t seem like a good idea.
Saturday night was the right time to unleash a look the Vols’ players love, according to Martin.
And who could disagree with that assessment?
Martin hates zone defenses — he admitted that even Saturday night — but he hates losing even more.
Vols' Jordan McRae (UT photo)
STARS BEIN’ STARS
McRae had a game-high 26 points in 38 solid minutes, starting 0-of-4 from the field — three of them being 3-pointers — but was 8-of-10 from the field and 5-of-8 from long range after that point. McRae also had four assists, two rebounds and just one turnovers.
Stokes was a big man on the block, dominating the interior with 22 points and a game-high 16 rebounds in 36 minutes.
When Stokes and McRae play the way they played Saturday night, Tennessee is extremely hard to beat. In any gym.
Vols coach Cuonzo Martin (UT photo)
Statistics won’t show Darius Thompson’s impact on Saturday’s game. He had just five points and two assists in 28 minutes.
But anyone who watched this game saw Thompson’s value. Tennessee’s true freshman point guard doesn’t get fazed very often, and he certainly wasn’t fazed by Alabama’s full-court pressure — an attack spearheaded by senior point guard Trevor Releford, one of the SEC’s best players at any position.
Mistakes against Alabama’s full-court pressure have doomed the Vols to defeat in this building the past few years. But the Vols had 13 assists and just five turnovers. Those numbers are solid in any game, and they’re great in games against full-court pressure.
Good point guard play is essential for a team that hopes to win at any level of basketball. And the Vols have had really good point guard play this week, even if the stats didn’t consistently show that.
FREEBIES AND THREEBIES
Basketball is a much simpler-looking game when teams make free throws and open jump shots.
And Tennessee was 9-of-20 (45.0 percent) from 3-point range and 21-of-26 (80.8 percent) from the free-throw line Saturday night.
And that’s why Tennessee won in style.
The same Vols who shot 1-of-19 from long range in a blowout loss at third-ranked Florida seven days ago have gone 20-of-40 from long range the past two games. No team is that ruthlessly efficient from the perimeter on a consistent basis, but the point remains — this team does have the ability to make open jumpers. They’ve done at home several times, and they’ve done it on the road a couple of times.
As for the free throws ... well ... the Vols continue to be one of the SEC’s best in that area. And that’s always a good place to be.
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