Tennessee (16-10, 7-6 SEC) at Texas A&M (14-11, 5-7)
Saturday, Feb. 22, 3:05 p.m. ET
Reed Arena (12,989) . College Station, Tex.
Radio: Vol Network (WGOW-FM 102.3, Chattanooga)
Series Record: Tennessee leads 5-2
Probable Texas A&M Starters
G-Alex Caruso, 6-5, 183, SO (8.0 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 4.6 apg)
G-Shawn Smith, 6-4, 192, FR (6.0 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 1.4 apg)
F-Jamal Jones, 6-8, 197, JR, (12.5 ppg, 4.3 rpg, .374 3FG%)
F-Antwan Space, 6-8, 224, SO, (5.6 ppg, 4.1 rpg, .424 FG%)
F-Kourtney Roberson, 6-9, 244, JR (9.8 ppg, 6.9 rpg, .605 FG%)
Key Reserves:Tavario Miller (6-7, 224, FR); Jordan Green (6-5, 188, JR); Fabyon Harris (5-11, 178, SR)
Probable Tennessee Starters
G-Darius Thompson, 6-5, 180, FR, (2.8 ppg, 2.0 rpg, 2.6 apg)
G-Jordan McRae, 6-6, 185, SR, (19.3 ppg, 3.5 rpg, .383 3FG%)
G-Josh Richardson, 6-6, 190, JR, (9.5 ppg, 3.0 rpg, .415 3FG%)
F-Jeronne Maymon, 6-8, 260, SR (10.3 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 3.6 orpg)
F-Jarnell Stokes, 6-8, 260, JR, (14.4 ppg, 10.2 rpg, 4.2 orpg)
Key Reserves:Antonio Barton (6-2, 180, SR); Derek Reese (6-8, 220, SO); A.J. Davis (6-9, 212, FR)
The opening tip
Perhaps no other moment captured the frustration of the 2013-14 season better than the ending of Tennessee’s game against Texas A&M in Knoxville.
After leading by 14 points at halftime, the Vols let the Aggies chip away at the lead in the second half. Clinging to a four-point advantage with 37 seconds left, Tennessee couldn’t finish it off. Jeronne Maymon missed a pair of free throws that could’ve sealed the victory and A&M forward Antwan Space, who came into the game with just two made 3s all season, buried the game-winning 3-pointer with 4.4 seconds remaining.
Blowing a large lead at home to a middling SEC squad might’ve been the low point of the season for Tennessee.
But the SEC schedule gives the Vols another chance. The Aggies are one of the teams they play twice this season, and Saturday’s trip to College Station is a virtual must-win for the Vols as they battle for NCAA tournament positioning.
Tennessee began what it hopes is a season-ending charge on Tuesday night by knocking off Georgia in a convincing 67-48 victory, and the Vols will look to carry that momentum into Saturday’s game.
“The thing I talk to our guys about is consistency on both ends of the floor,” coach Cuonzo Martin told reporters on Thursday. “[Defensively], protecting that lane, weakside guys helping and rotating, closing out with our hands up, containing the dribble. I thought we did a great job against Georgia. We know what to do. It’s just a matter of doing it from start to finish.”
One thing UT did particularly well against the Bulldogs was get the ball inside to forward Jarnell Stokes.Stokes hit 9 of 13 shots for 21 points, grabbed 11 rebounds and blocked three shots.
And he finally got some more help from the perimeter. Josh Richardson and Jordan McRae have been hitting some shots the last few weeks, but that’s been virtually it. Sixth man Antonio Barton stepped up on Tuesday, hitting four 3-pointers and giving UT more offensive flexibility.
A&M has been a difficult team to figure out. The Aggies have suffered some bad losses to teams such as South Carolina and Mississippi State, but they’ve also knocked off UT, LSU and they’re coming off a 15-point win over Alabama.
It’s a game UT should win, but the Vols already know all-too-well what can happen if they aren’t focused for 40 minutes.
“It was a tough loss for us, especially in the fashion that it happened. I’m pretty sure it’s always going to sting.”
– Maymon on the loss to A&M earlier in the season
Stokes is tied for third in Division I with 15 double-doubles this season. He is also 55 points shy of joining the 1,000-point club . The Vols are currently in a four-way tie for fourth place in the SEC. The top four teams in the conference receive a bye in the SEC tournament. . ESPN’s updated rankings have Tennessee at No. 52 in the RPI with a strength of schedule at No. 9. . Tennessee’s last trip to Texas A&M led to a marathon 4-OT contest that the Vols eventually won 93-85.
Tennessee 64, Texas A&M 58
Daniel Lewis covers Tennessee athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter@DanielNooga