KNOXVILLE – A quick glance at the lineup card showed that The Citadel was likely in for a long night against Tennessee on Monday at Thompson-Boling Arena.
The Southern Conference squad’s starting frontcourt of Brian White and Tom Koopman average under 200 pounds. That’s a bad matchup against Tennessee, a squad that throws 520 pounds of post power at opponents when Jarnell Stokes and Jeronne Maymon are on the court.
That size advantage could be seen as the Vols controlled the glass (41-29 in rebounds) and easily won the points in the paint battle (38-16) on their way to a comfortable 86-60 victory.
“We thought Jarnell had a tremendous size advantage around the rim,” said coach Cuonzo Martin. “We just wanted to power the ball inside and give those guys credit; they did a good job of doubling early but we want to move the ball often. We just wanted to pound Jarnell about moving the ball and make the defense work. I thought we did a better job tonight.”
And when the Bulldogs threw double teams at the Vols’ bigs down low, Tennessee’s perimeter players took advantage. The Vols (2-1) shot a season-high 57-percent from the floor, paced by strong scoring nights from guards Antonio Barton (13 points), Jordan McRae (20 points) and Robert Hubbs III (13 points).
“We have some guys that can make shots,” Martin said. “We have 4-5 guys that can make shots. The key is not settling for just 3-point shots. I think we’ve done a better job of just not tossing shots up, but really driving the basketball and taking what the defense gives us.”
“We just have the shooters,” added McRae. “Robert is a really good 3-point shooter. Darius [Thompson] is too but he hasn’t shot many, but he is a really good 3- point shooter. Josh [Richardson] has been working on his shot. We just have a team of great shots.”
Barton, especially, had a strong night overall. The Memphis trasnfer hit 5 of 7 shots from the field, 3 of 4 from 3-points range, dished out two assists and committed no turnovers. He’s only given up two turnovers in 84 minutes of game time this season and the Vols were plus-24 on the scoreboard when he was on the court Monday night.
“It’s getting there,” Barton said of his adjustment to the program after playing three years with the Tigers. “It’s not fully there – still learning the guys, still learning the coaches, still learning the city, but it’s been a comfortable ride and I love it so far.”
Tennessee jumped out to a 28-9 lead in the opening 10 minutes of the first half. The Citadel (2-3), a squad that finished second to last in the SoCon in 2012-13, never truly threatened. The Bulldogs cut the lead to 14 early in the second half, but Tennessee quickly moved it back to 20-plus.
A perfect alley-oop toss from freshman point guard Darius Thompson to guard Josh Richardson bumped Tennessee’s lead 53-33 at the 13:58 mark of the second half. The rout continued on from there.
The only drama of the final 10 minutes involved seeing if the Vols would top their largest margin of victory under coach Cuonzo Martin (plus-31), a mark they set against the same Citadel program in 2011, Martin’s first year in Knoxville. But the Vols emptied the bench, making the final tally slightly more respectable.
There was some much-needed rest down the stretch for players such as Maymon, who played extended minutes in UT’s opening two contests.
“We were able to accomplish what we wanted to do as far as getting out of the gates and shooting the ball well from the field but also get those key guys rested and get those bench guys some key minutes and I thought we did that tonight,” Martin said.
Tennessee returns to action Friday night when in-state foe Tennessee State comes to Knoxville.
Daniel Lewis covers University of Tennessee athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter@DanielNooga