As the game turned: In a game that Cuonzo Martin called a “tough, tough fight for our guys,” the Volunteers appeared to have a Musketeer hangover as South Carolina-Upstate bolted to a 24-13 lead nine minutes into the game. The third-year head coach noted a high volume of missed layups as a primary reason for the early struggle.
“I guess we have to continue to work on layups – it’s just that simple,” Martin said. “I think there were a couple times that Jeronne (Maymon) just missed some. We’ve got to make those shots. I thought we kept trying to go over the rim and put it in as opposed to using the glass.”
Down by only seven at the break, a seemingly rejuvenated UT squad took the floor in the second half as a Jordan McRae old-fashioned three point play cut the deficit to one just four minutes in. The Spartans answered right back, however, pushing their lead back to nine with 12:33 remaining in the game.
The Vols would find their stroke, though, reeling off a 20-7 run over an 8-minute stretch. A Jarnell Stokes hustle rebound-turned Antonio Barton three put Martin’s squad ahead for good as the former Memphis Tiger and McRae totaled the Vols’ final 11 points.
Hot topic: After shooting a dismal 36.8 percent from the free throw line in the season opener, Martin’s squad turned it around versus the Spartans, going 29-of-36 from the charity stripe with three players hitting at least five free throws.
“Tuesday we shot from the free throw line terribly, so we had no other way (to go) but up,” Stokes said. “That’s how it is on the road sometimes. I feel like in TBA, guys are very comfortable shooting on the line. I don’t know what it is. I’m 19, but I don’t know what it is. I can’t explain why.”
The Memphis, Tenn., native knocked down four crucial free throws late in the first half to cut the deficit to seven heading into the break. In an area that Stokes has struggled with in past years, the junior forward felt he may have turned a corner during Saturday’s comeback win.
“I’ve really been working on my free throws,” Stokes said, who ended the evening 7-of-8 from the line. “It really paid off today because I felt comfortable at the line. That’s something I haven’t had in previous years. I’ve never felt comfortable at the line like I did today.”
Spotlight: The highly-touted UT frontcourt finally showed its true potential Saturday night as Stokes and Maymon each posted a double-double, combining for 29 rebounds and 32 points with only two turnovers.
“I thought Jarnell and Jeronne did a good job rebounding,” Martin said. “They did a great job really crashing the glass.”
After sputtering out of the gates versus Xavier due to foul trouble and inconsistent play, Stokes and Maymon was an effective combo throughout, turning in an impressive 67 total minutes, 20 more than the season opener.
“I guess you couldn’t tell I was a little gassed out there,” Maymon said. “I was going out there giving it my all, and that’s all I can do. Hopefully I’ll get my game wind back and be fine. I’m just steady putting logs in the fire.”
The other guys: In his return to Knoxville, former Bearden Bulldog guard Ty Greene poured in 15 points, while playing the entire 40 minutes. Senior forward Torrey Craig lead the Spartans with 20 points on 7-of-15 shooting as USC Upstate fell to 1-2 on the season.
Outside the box score: UT’s five turnovers were its least amount in a game since Feb. 15, 1992 against Dayton.
Say something: USC Upstate head coach Eddie Payne on Stokes’ size and physicality: "He's liable to be an edge rusher in the NFL one day. He's a load.”
By the numbers:
16: The Vols’ final total in offensive rebounds.
93: UT’s free throw percentage in the second half.
1: USC Upstate had one assist in the second half. The Spartans had 10 in the first half.
Up next: The Vols’ have a quick turnaround as they host The Citadel on Monday evening at 7 p.m.