Up 16 on Tennessee State with 4:13 remaining in the first half, it seemed as if the Vols were strolling to an easy victory for the second consecutive game.
Then, the Tigers struck back, ending the half on an 11-3 run that kept them in the ballgame as they went into the locker room down 38-30.
The second half, however, was more like the first 15:47 of the first half for the Vols, as they scored 50 points in the final 20 minutes to put away Tennessee State, 88-67, inside Thompson-Boling Arena Friday night.
"Right there, that's where good teams kill their opponent," said junior forward Jarnell Stokes about TSU's comeback late in the first half, "they put the team away, and that's something that we didn't do.
"We continued to play hard though. Everyone is hungry right now as far as getting some momentum going into The Bahamas, so we just put the ball in the hole, basically."
The Vols second half outburst was headed by senior forward Jordan McRae, who scored 14 points in the half and finished with a game-high 25 – his third 20-plus performance of the season.
"Coach Martin did a good job of calling some plays for me to attack," McRae said. "I got an and-one, got a few fouls, plays like that, they get you back in it."
Those plays, Martin stated, are a big key to the success of the Volunteers offense.
"He can score the basketball. That's what he does ... You've just got to keep getting him the ball," Martin said. "It's my job as a coach to make sure he's getting the ball in shooting positions, but the thing about it is the guys are looking for him, so he doesn't have to hunt for shots much."
McRae, however, wasn't the only Volunteer to shine.
Point guard Darius Thompson played his best game in orange thus far, as he seemed to be everywhere at once. The true freshman finished the day with six points, seven assists, five steals and four rebounds.
"Darius is just smooth," McRae said. "He finds the open guys, a lot of times Darius can score but he passes. That's just the kind of guy you love to have on your team."
Thompson also paired up with fellow point guard Antonio Barton, who finished with seven points on 3-of-4 shooting (1-1 3PT), on a few occasions to provide a spark to the Tennessee offense, especially in transition where the Vols scored 16 points on the break.
"You have two guys that make good decisions with the basketball," Martin said. "Two guys that can make shots, put it on the floor and willing to pass even if they are point guards. They are looking for other guys and they do a good job of finding guys. I think it helps when both of them are out there."
The Vols outrebounded the Tigers, 36-20, and their 18 offensive rebounds led to 18 second chance points. Stokes led the way with a game-high eight boards – four offensive, four defensive.