Barton, Vols dominate Commodores, 76-38
Posted: Sat Mar 01, 2014 4:17 p.m.
Updated: Sat Mar 01, 2014 4:17 p.m.
Updated: Sat Mar 01, 2014 4:17 p.m.
Vanderbilt head coach Kevin Stallings spent the days leading up to Saturday's game at Tennessee calling Volunteer fans who wanted Cuonzo Martin fired "idiots," making him the subject of profanity-laced jeers and heavy boos every minute he spent on the Thompson-Boling Arena court. But at least for 40 minutes, Stallings' vindication of his bright orange blazer-toting enemy proved to be right on the money. Tennessee followed up perhaps its best first-half performance of the season with a second half just as dominating, knocking in-state rival Vanderbilt out cold with a crucial 76-38 win on Saturday. UT's 38-point margin of victory was the Vols' largest in the 185-game-old rivalry. It also made up for a 64-60 loss in Nashville on Feb. 5 in which Vandy handed out shirts that read "our state" to its student section. "It means a lot to me," Tennessee forward Jarnell Stokes said after the win. "Being a home guy, I hate when another team tries to claim the state when we're named Tennessee." Senior point guard Antonio Barton poured in a season-high 21 points and career-high six assists. Stokes added 12 points and 11 rebounds while six other Vols contributed five or more points. Vandy (15-13, 7-9 SEC) boasted no players in double digits and shot a ghastly 22 percent (11-of-49) from the field. The defensive-minded Martin shuffled defensive sets and kept Commodore players from finding gaps and open looks. "We just talk about having relentless focus and dedication to your craft," Martin said of his defense. "When we're consistent, these are some of the results. "Hopefully when shots don't fall, we can still defend and play hard at this level." Vanderbilt starters Rod Odom and Kyle Fuller, who combined for 38 points and 10 assists in the home win over UT, were held to 5-of-18 shooting, 13 total points and two assists Saturday. "We didn't have one guy that I thought played the way they needed to play in order for us to have a chance to win this game," Stallings said. The two sides played a barnburner that went the distance earlier this season, but Saturday's game was all Tennessee from the opening tip. It took the Vols (18-11, 9-7) five minutes of game time to lead by double digits, and 15 minutes to push it out to a 20-point lead. Vanderbilt was held scoreless for more than a five-minute stretch late in the first half, as UT controlled the pace on both sides of the ball. The Vols hit 7-of-12 attempts from 3-point land in the opening half to take a commanding 41-18 lead into the locker room. Entering the second half with a commanding lead, the Vols didn't let up. They continued pouring it on, pushing the lead to as many as 40 points in the final minute of the game. Barton's hot shooting outside was a big reason why. He hit 5-of-7 attempts from long range, helping the Vols to not miss a beat during Jordan McRae's quiet, nine-point afternoon. "It helps a lot," Barton said. "It helps even better if both (me and McRae) are on, to make it a double-threat. But he's carried us all year, so a night like that was very needed." In just his second game re-entered into the starting lineup, the senior Memphis transfer was locked in from start to finish, playing with a level of confidence he hasn't shown since arriving in Knoxville before the season. "(My confidence) has gone up high," Barton said. "I feel more comfortable, knowing that I can be out there and be relaxed and not have to look over my shoulder and worry about other stuff. It allows me to help my team out in a lot of ways." UT opened up with baskets from Barton, Stokes and McRae to take a 9-2 lead, and from that point on, a supreme energy level simply was too much for the gassed 'Dores. Vanderbilt walked out of Memorial Gym nearly a month ago sporting arguably its biggest win of the season — albeit over the bitter in-state rival Vols. But on Saturday, Stokes and company had the first, middle and last laughs. "When you see guys showboating and talking trash to the other team, and defending, it forces you to come to their level," Stokes said of his teammates' energy. Of course, having former Vol Dale Ellis' jersey retired before tipoff and hearing from him Friday before the game made for a bit of an emotional impact as well. "He asked us to blow them out for him, so I guess that was a part of it," Stokes said. The Vols will hope to improve upon just their second win streak in SEC play this season when they travel to face Auburn on Wednesday night.