A season ago, Tennessee’s non-conference play ended in exhilarating fashion as the Volunteers busted out brand new, all-orange uniforms before dropping a close and exciting contest to in-state rival Memphis.
Exactly one year later, UT’s out-of-conference schedule again concluded but in a more subdued and productive fashion as the Vols overpowered Tusculum College, 98-51 Saturday afternoon at Thompson-Boling Arena.
“Good win to finish the non-conference schedule,” Martin said. “Thought our guys did a good job moving the ball; for the most part taking care of the ball.”
By scheduling the Division II Pioneers, the Vols' Rating Percentage Index will not suffer at the hands of a lesser opponent as non-Division I matchups don’t factor into the all-important college basketball ranking system.
Fresh off its riveting, 35-point blowout of Virginia Monday night, Martin’s squad wasted no time in putting away the Pioneers early as the Vols reeled off the game’s first 11 points in just over 2 ½ minutes.
With junior Josh Richardson out of the starting lineup because of a “late” arrival to pregame rituals, Jordan McRae (19 points) Jeronne Maymon (16) and Antonio Barton (14) led the offensive charge for the Vols, who shot 57 percent from the floor, drained 11 3-pointers and poured in a season-high 30 assists.
“I thought our guys did a good job of getting shots, getting opportunities and staying aggressive,” Martin said. “They played the zone for the most part probably the last 25 minutes of the game, but when you are making shots—and we are capable of making shots—we are a different team.”
The UT lead reached a first half high of 25 after D’Montre Edwards drilled a corner 3-pointer just seconds before intermission.
The senior from Charleston, S.C., played 16 minutes—his most on the season—and finished with a career-high 12 points off the bench.
"It felt good,” Edwards said. “I wanted to start by just defending and playing hard. When I got an open shot to take it and make it.“It felt pretty good just being able to see the ball go in the basket because I don't know the last time I scored, but at the same time I'm just glad we got the win."
Edwards wasn’t the only reserve given extra playing time as the lopsided score saw Martin limit his starters’ minutes and empty the bench in the second half.
“Got an opportunity to play a lot of guys,” Martin said. “D’Montre and Derek Reese, that was a case of guys continuing to work on their games and continuing to get better.”
Freshman Robert Hubbs missed Saturday’s win with left shoulder injury, a situation Martin doesn’t exactly know how will play out for the remainder of the year.
“He hadn’t practiced,” Martin said. “I don’t think he is done for the season so obviously don’t quote me on that one, but it was just more of it is still sore. He hadn’t done any contact since the injury so just one of those deals.”
UT now enters SEC play, which in recent years, hasn’t been kind to the Vols in its early stages. In each of Martin’s first two seasons, UT has kicked off its conference slate with a 1-3 record through the first four games.
The Vols travel to LSU next Tuesday. Tipoff is slated for 7 p.m. on ESPN.
“When you’re playing well, you’re going to come into the next game with more confidence,” Maymon said. “We need that going into SEC play. We excited for Tuesday.”