KNOXVILLE – Jordan McRae has carried Tennessee before.
Three times this year he’s led the Vols with 26 points. Twice more he’s scored more than 20.
He reached a new level on Tuesday against LSU. The 6-5 junior scored a career-high 34 points on 13 of 18 shooting and connected on all six of his 3-point attempts.
But unlike the five other times he’s scored more than 20 in a game this year, the Vols came out on top in an 82-72 win over the Tigers in front of just over 15,000 at Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville.
“He shot the ball very well,” said teammate Jarnell Stokes, who recorded his seventh double-double in the last eight contests with 13 points and 11 boards. “I thought that’s what we’ve been missing – 3-point shooters. He just plays with extreme confidence. He can come up with games like this on any given night. His confidence is sky high.”
Added McRae: "It means a lot [to get the win]. If all three of us (Stokes, Golden and he) are playing well with Josh (Richardson) and the other guys doing what they do then we are a hard team to stop."
McRae’s scoring outburst marked the first time a Vol had scored 30 points since forward Jeronne Maymon dropped 32 on Memphis in the Maui Invitational in November of 2011.
McRae fell just short of being the first Vol to score 35 since legendary shooting guard Chris Lofton connected for that many against Texas in 2006. McRae’s total combined with 20 points from point guard Trae Golden also marked the first time UT had a 30 and a 20-point scorer in the same game since 2006.
“I thought Jordan did a great job scoring the ball, taking good shots, ripping 3-point shots,” coach Cuonzo Martin said. “With the offense and the spacing and the movement and the way Jarnell is playing, you’re going to have opportunities to score the basketball.”
Playing with only two days of rest after an emotional 88-58 win over rival Kentucky on Saturday, the Vols didn’t put on quite the show they did against the ‘Cats, but kept their hot shooting going.
They buried 59.3 percent of their shots from the field in the first half on their way to a 40-30 advantage at the break. It marked the third straight game UT scored at least 40 at the half – more points than they scored in entire games against Georgetown (36) and Virginia (38) in the non-conference season.
It was their specialty shooting – 3-point and free-throw attempts – that made a huge difference, though.
Paced by McRae’s perfect night, the Vols connected on 66.7 percent of their 3-point attempts. They were even more impressive from the charity stripe, connecting on 85.7 percent – including 14 of 15 in the second half. They are shooting 81.7 percent from the line in the last three contests.
“This is the team we thought we could be offensively,” Martin said. "Guys are spending time in practice shooting shots. The offense will dictate when you take shots. You go through Jarnell Stokes, then you have open looks. They might double team him, if not he scores the basket, if they want to double team then you have guys making shots.”
A resilient effort from LSU kept the visiting Tigers in the contest despite UT’s hot shooting, but they never managed to pull closer than six in the second half after starting the game off with a 14-9 edge.
The Tigers had won five of their last six before Tuesday night.
“I thought we had great effort and they are probably playing as well as anyone in the league right now and they showed that again tonight," said LSU coach Johnny Jones.
Daniel Lewis covers University of Tennessee athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @DanielNooga