KNOXVILLE — After three consecutive single-digit scoring efforts, Tennessee sophomore Jarnell Stokes rebounded against Presbyterian on Tuesday night with 18 points, a performance that begs the question:
Can he pick on somebody his own size?
It’s one thing to use his 6-foot-8, 270-pound frame against an undersized team, but can exert his will against power conference teams? Stokes has shown that ability, or at least he did as a freshman. But so far this season, without teammate Jeronne Maymon to help alleviate double- and even triple teaming, Stokes has been neutralized.
Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin and his staff have worked to devise ways to free Stokes, but ultimately, it’s up to him how hard he works to score. Some NBA scouts have questioned his intensity level, but in fairness, he’s still only 18 years old.
Even after Stokes’ decent showing against Presbyterian that included a rare 6-for-6 free-throw shooting effort and seven rebounds, Martin pointed out ways he could have done more.
"I thought he was solid,” Martin said. “(But) I thought there was one or two opportunities were he could have posted up. He might have gotten more shot opportunities if he posted more aggressively. But I thought he played well offensively."
Martin says the words aggressive and assertive a half-dozen times each every time he talks to the media. No doubt he uses them even more in practice. The sooner Stokes’ level of aggression and assertiveness matches that massive frame of his and his scoring skills, the better the Vols will be, regardless of whether Maymon returns.
• Another player who could help Tennessee’s had his breakout game of the season against Presbyterian. Junior D’Montre Edwards, the 6-6 junior college transfer, scored 11 points and grabbed five rebounds, finally showing the skills he was reported to have when he signed with Tennessee in 2011. Edwards was just 3 of 7 from the field, but he was 2 of 4 from 3-point range.
If he could toss in a couple of 3s every game, the Vols might see far few zones, and Stokes might even find himself in single coverage now and then.
“Coach (Martin) preaches to us to stay aggressive (there’s that word again), to hunt your shots and take what the defense gives you,” Edwards said about his first double-figure scoring game of the season. “So I had pretty good looks and my teammates did a good job of finding me.”
Edwards has put together a couple of decent shooting games in a row now. Against Wichita State, he was 1 of 2 from 3.
Putbacks: Before Presbyterian, Tennessee had limited its previous four opponents—Oakland, Georgetown, Virginia and Wichita State—to 60 or less points, something the program hadn’t done since the 1981-82 season. How ironic was it that the streak was ended by the Blue Hose, which was limited to 13 points in the first half but scored 49 in the second? … With Kenny Hall hobble with a hamstring issue, his place in the starting lineup was taken by 6-5 guard Jordan McRae, who had settled into a sixth-man role but didn’t seem to mind starting one bit. He scored 12 points, matched his career high with a game-high eight boards and also contributed a monster dunk on a baseline drive. The throw down was No. 8 on ESPN’s Top Plays and rivaled this one against Ole Miss that was also singled out by SportsCenter.