BAYMON, P.R. – All things considered, it wasn’t a bad trip to the Puerto Rico Tip-Off for Tennessee’s basketball team.
No, the Vols didn’t win the championship, but two days removed from a poor performance in a loss to Oklahoma State, the Vols were a different team in ripping Massachusetts, 83-69 to take third place.
Jarnell Stokes personified that improvement. Stokes, the 6-8, 270-pound sophomore, didn’t play his best against the Cowboys, but against the Minutemen he broke out with a career-high 24 points and added a game-high 12 rebounds.After struggling on the boards in their first three games of the season, the Vols (3-1) ripped down 51 rebounds for a +14 margin off the glass.
“It was a really good win against an athletic team,” Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin said. “A team that’s picked to finish 4th in the Atlantic-10. A team that doesn’t score anything less than 70 points a night.
“This type of game is hard when you don’t have a lot of prep time and coming off of an emotional loss. That team we saw against Oklahoma State is a Tennessee team I’m not accustomed to seeing. I don’t want to see that again. I thought our guys did a tremendous job of bouncing back.”
Jordan McRae scored 12 points off the bench while Trae Golden, Skylar McBee and Josh Richardson added 11 each for the Vols, who placed five scorers in double-figures for the second time this season.
Golden led Tennessee with six assists and committed just one turnover despite UMass’ occasional full-court defensive pressure.
“I thought he did a great job,” Martin said. “I think this is the best job Trae has done against the press while playing at Tennessee. We talk about it all the time and work on it everyday in practice … keep the ball alive the whole time. Don’t pass it or pick up your dribble unless you have to. He kept the ball alive and made plays. He is the one guy that can really make plays like that and break a defense down. He did a great job doing it.”
Stokes also did a good job of executing what his coach asked him to do.
“Coach told me I should try to score the ball more,” said Stokes, who got to the free-throw line 17 times, making 10 of them. “Even if I get double teamed, I still should look to score. I feel like I left a lot of missed free throws out there. I’ve got to make free throws. Overall, I think it was a great team win.”
After falling behind momentarily, the Vols went on a 17-2 run as Stokes scored six points in the spurt to make it 61-54 UT with seven minutes left. A McRae dunk had tied the game at 52, then his 3-pointer put the Vols ahead 57-54 with 8:15 left.
Tennessee reeled off 14 points in a row as Richardson converted back-to-back layups to give the Vols a 68-54 lead with five minutes left.
UMass hit consecutive 3-pointers to trim the margin back to seven at 69-62 with 3:17 left, but the Vols quickly responded with layups from Richardson and Stokes to move the margin back to double-figures at 73-62.
The Vols made eight of 10 free throws in the final 2:11 to ice the win.
UMass was led by Jesse Morgan, who scored 18 points, and Chaz Williams, who had 16 points, eight rebounds and eight assists.
Tennessee’s defense toughened up down the stretch and held the Minutemen to just 34.8 percent from the floor, including 27 percent in the second half.
The Vols return to action on Monday, Nov. 26 as Oakland comes to Thompson-Boling Arena for a 7 p.m. tipoff in a game that airs on Fox Sports South and the Vol Network.