Point guards aren't supposed to out-rebound centers, but don't tell that to Antonio Barton.
Early in the second half of a four-point game, UT big men Jarnell Stokes and Jeronne Maymon switched onto Tennessee Tech's two best shooters out on the perimeter. Barton was left trying to cover 6-foot-8 Golden Eagles center Dwan Caldwell in the paint as a shot attempt went up.
It didn't matter. The 6-2 guard boxed out a player some 70 pounds heavier than him, grabbed the missed shot and took it coast to coast for a 3-pointer.
Tennessee would score 16 of the game's next 17 points. A first-half barnburner quickly transformed into another blowout win.
As has been the case for much of this early season, winning on Saturday wasn't as easy as advertised. But behind a second-half surge and lockdown defense in the final period, the Vols beat Tennessee Tech 84-63 on Saturday afternoon in Thompson-Boling Arena.
After the lead changed 14 times in the first half, head coach Cuonzo Martin liked what he saw from his Vols (6-2) after halftime.
"Going into the second half, I thought our guys did a tremendous job battling and taking away those 3-point shots," Martin said. "We didn't come to play early in the first half. A couple of guys just weren't locked in out of the gates, so it was a good thing that we bounced back."
Jarnell Stokes had his way in the paint, notching a double-double just two minutes into the second half. He finished 19 points and 13 rebounds—both game-highs.
"When Jarnell is aggressive, he plays well," Martin said. "Whether he's making or missing shots, when he's aggressive, active, attacking the rim and is assertive, he normally has success."
Stokes was one of four Vols in double figures. Jordan McRae posted 16 points, while Jeronne Maymon and Josh Richardson each added 13 points.
The Vols' inside presence made way for a 48-26 advantage in points in the paint, but it wasn't enough to offset Tech's unimaginable start from beyond the arc. The Golden Eagles (5-6) hit eight of their 10 3-point shots in the first half.
"We have to come out with a killer mentality," Stokes said of the Vols' defense. "They shot 80 percent from the 3-point line early. If this were a road game, it would've been hard to get out of it."
UT entered half with a 41-40 lead, but the Golden Eagles' hot shooting didn't carry over into the final frame. They hit just two of their 10 attempts from deep after halftime—perhaps the biggest reason why the Vols were able to pull away.
Facing an early scare, the experience-laden UT squad didn't show any wariness or concern. Instead, they executed the game plan by shutting things down on the perimeter and getting to the rim at will against an overmatched Golden Eagles team.
"That's the beauty of this team," Richardson said. "The last two years, we haven't had as much experience, but this year, we've got pretty much all old guys. We've been there before."
Locking up Tech's Jordan Johnson—who scored 15 points on 4-for-4 shooting from deep in the first half—was the first priority. It worked, as he was held scoreless in the final frame.
"Well we know Johnson had 15 in the first half, so he hurt us," Richardson said. "Walking out, I told Jordan (McRae) 'he doesn't get another shot off,' and he was like 'alright, I got you.'
"He definitely locked him up in the second half."
Jeronne Maymon didn't start for the first time this season, as Martin slotted freshman standout A.J. Davis in his place. Martin made the decision to sit Maymon after he arrived late to the arena, the third-year coach said after the game.
The redshirt senior didn't have to wait long. He was subbed in less than four minutes into the game, posting 22 minutes while Davis played just 12 minutes.
The Vols took care of the ball particularly well, turning the ball over just five times to Tech's 14. Having lived and died off turnovers this season, that stat was a big advantage for Tennessee.
Next up for the Vols is one of their toughest stretches of the season. They will travel to face Wichita State on the road Dec. 14 before returning home to face N.C. State on Dec. 18.