Tennessee – often an enigmatic team on the road – started the 2012-13 SEC season with a four-game losing streak on the road before winning four of its last five down the stretch on the road against conference foes.
Based on Tuesday night’s conference road opener at LSU, the 2013-14 version of the Vols clearly look more like the team that finished last year’s SEC away schedule strong than the one that struggled early.
The Vols routed the Tigers by a final of 68-50, giving them a 1-0 start in conference play and extending a four-game winning streak that helps limit the pain of a frustrating early-season start for Tennessee (10-4, 1-0 SEC).
“It was a great team and road win,” said Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin. “I thought our guys were locked in and I thought they did a great job of paying attention to detail. It was just a good effort from top to bottom.”
Senior point guard Antonio Barton got the Vols started in Baton Rouge. The transfer from Memphis did what he was brought to Knoxville to do – knock down shots. He was 4 of 4 from 3-point range in the first half, helping the Vols build a 38-24 edge at the break.
And though Barton cooled down in the second half, UT’s balanced attack kept LSU (9-4, 0-1) from ever truly threatening. The Tigers never got closer than 12 in the second half. Leading scorer Jordan McRae paced the Vols with 19 points, Jarnell Stokes contributed 15 points and 15 boards for his 25th career double-double and Barton finished with 14 points in the contest.
The Vols kept up their recent trend of hot shooting and stingy defense that led them to three straight victories over Morehead State, Virginia and Tusculum heading into Tuesday night.
“I think when our big guys are aggressive and in attack mode we are in good shape,” Martin said. “Then when our guards are making shots from the perimeter, we are a really tough team to beat. When you add in shooting from the 3 and free-throw line so well our balance gets better.”
LSU shot just 36.7 percent from the floor, while the Vols hit over 46 percent of their shots from the field and converted 8 of 15 from beyond the arc and hit 12 of 15 free throws.
The 18-point margin of victory marks Martin’s largest win on the road at UT. It was arguably the Vols’ best performance in an away game since they knocked off Florida in the 2011-12 campaign.
“It’s a great feeling,” Martin said. “It’s one game at a time though and a new season. To beat a team like this on their home court is not easy so it feels good. I’m really proud of the guys in our program.”
“This game on the road was huge for us,” added McRae. “It feels really good winning on the road. We haven’t had this feeling, especially the first SEC game, the past two years. We have being going 0-2 or 0-3. We couldn’t find our way. We just have to keep doing what we’ve been doing.”
Tennessee returns to Knoxville for a two-game home stand against Texas A&M (Sat., 6:00 p.m. ET) and Auburn.