As the game turned: Back-to-back slams from Darius Thompson and Jordan McRae gave the Volunteers their first double-digit lead of the game, 24-13, with just under eight minutes remaining until the break. UT would get up by as much as 16, but a 1-of-5 free throw performance in the first half's final minutes cracked the door just a tad for winless Tennessee State. The Tigers trailed by just eight, 38-30, heading into intermission.
"No one wants to starts 0-6, so we knew they were coming in fighting," head coach Cuonzo Martin said. 'They did a great job of controlling the tempo in first half, and we had to be patient."
A TSU three-pointer two and a half minutes in cut the deficit to six, but the Tigers would get no closer as a 50 percent increase from the charity stripe helped UT's lead stay at 15-plus for the game's final 11:54. McRae, Jarnell Stokes and Robert Hubbs went a combined 12-of-12 from the line in the second half.
Hot topic: Following UT's season-high 14 turnover performance versus The Citadel, the Vols rebounded nicely Friday night, slicing that number in half in the 21-point victory over the Tigers.
"Take care of the ball. No turnovers...That's what our coaches tell us every day," Thompson said. "When I get in there, I just try to protect the ball. Just do whatever to protect it.
"Every game, we try to stay under five turnovers (as a team)."
Martin's squad didn't quite reach that benchmark against TSU, but the third-year coach was pleased nonetheless, especially when considering the style of offense UT implements.
"When you run the motion offense, again, it's tough because you have to dictate reads, Martin said. "You have to see how they're defending guys. Sometimes you can pass the ball too quick, but they're doing a better job about that."
"You need to take care of the ball to give yourself a chance to win games."
Spotlight: After dishing out just four assists in UT's first three regular season games, Thompson nearly doubled that total in Friday's contest alone, totaling a game-high seven assists in the freshman point guard's second consecutive 20-plus-minute outing.
"It is very exciting to play with him because you never know when you are going to get the ball," sophomore guard Armani Moore said. "You have to always watch him to see what he is going to do. I like how he passes the ball. He is very smart with it."
In addition, the Murfreesboro, Tenn., native logged six points and a team-high five steals; the most for a freshman since Tobias Harris versus Belmont on Dec. 23, 2010.
"He does a good job even in practice of getting steals," Martin said. "You¹re talking about a guy who's 6-foot-4, almost 6-foot-5, who has a good feel and anticipates well."
The other guys: Senior guard Patrick Miller lead TSU with 20 points and six assists on 5-of-10 shooting as the Tigers dropped their eighth straight game dating back to last season. TSU will face another SEC squad Tuesday when they travel to Auburn.
Outside the box score: With 6:49 remaining in the game, Rawane "Pops" Ndiaye scored his first official basket as Vol; a McRae-assisted layup that upped the UT lead to 21. The junior center finished with six points and three rebounds.
Say something: Thompson on his preferred stat line: "I would rather have ten assists than 20 points, but that is just me. Most people it is the opposite, but I just like to pass.
By the numbers:
0: McRae missed zero shots in the second half, going 4-of-4 from the field and 5-of-5 at the line.
48: UT doubled up the Tigers in the paint, 48-24.
3: The Vols have now won three straight in-state matchups dating back to last season.
Up next: UT is off until next Thursday when it travels internationally to Paradise Island, Bahamas, for the Battle 4 Atlantis. The Vols face UTEP in round one of the Thanksgiving weekend tournament and will tackle either Iowa or Xavier in round two.