RALEIGH, N.C. — As the game turned: Following a 14-5 Massachusetts run to open the second half, it seemed the Minutemen had every intention of halting the Volunteers’ emphatic run through the first 20 minutes of Friday’s Round of 32 matchup.
Derek Kellogg’s squad whittled Tennessee’s 19-point halftime lead down to just 10 with 14:20 to go, and UMass’s full-court press appeared to be taking its toll as the Vols turned it over three times in the first five minutes of the second half.
“They made a run in the second half," head coach Cuonzo Martin said, "which we knew they would.”
But UT regrouped and reeled off a 17-6 run over the next four minutes and change, racing out to 63-42 advantage — the Vols’ largest lead at the time — with just less than 10 minutes remaining.
Martin's squad finally cracked the Minutemen press as both Jarnell Stokes and Jordan McRae converted easy layups to spearhead the pivotal scoring spurt.
From there, UT's lead never dipped below 16, ensuring the Vols would cruise into the Round of 32 with a convincing 19-point victory.
Hot topic: A monumental part of UT’s 41-22 halftime advantage was the Vols forced the Minutemen into 10 first half turnovers — four of which came in the opening six minutes.
That gave Martin’s squad multiple opportunities to execute in transition — something the Vols have struggled with for a vast majority of this season.
“Probably one of the areas we’ve had the most trouble offensively is our transition offense,” Martin said. “So in the past couple of weeks we’ve spent a lot of time with the transition offense to be able to capitalize in those areas.
“We did it today.”
And often as the Vols poured in 19 fast break points and 16 off turnovers.
“We answered there with offense,” Stokes said. “We did something we hadn’t been doing all season and that’s getting fast break baskets.”
Spotlight: Coming in, it was well-understood that stopping UMass guard Chaz Williams was one of UT’s top priorities. The Minutemen senior averaged 15.6 points and seven assists per game and had posted 16-plus scoring performances in six out UMass’s last seven contests.
"Going into this game, I was so worried about Chaz Williams getting into the lane and finding guys," Stokes said. "He did some of that in the second half, but my job was ball screen defense."
Added Antonio Barton: “We needed to stop Chaz a little bit — slow him down. He’s most effective in transition offense, so I had to pick him up early and keep him out of the paint when he drives — just keep my hands up and make him take tough shots.”
Early on, most of Williams’ attempts were heavily contested as the Vols honed in and limited him to just six points in the first half. Meanwhile Williams, who averaged only 3.4 turnovers per game, quickly surpassed that total, turning the ball over four times in the first 13 minutes.
“I think it was mostly jitters than anything,” said Williams, who finished with 12 points. “We were so excited that we were too excited I think. We were just moving too fast, wasn’t in our positions where we needed to be on offense and defense.
“So I think that kind of took away from what we wanted to do.”
The other guys: Along with Williams, Maxie Esho poured in 12 points for the Minutemen as well. Sophomore Derrick Gordan also chimed in with 10.
Outside the box score: UT’s 86 points were its most since its 86-70 win over Ole Miss on Jan. 29.
Say something: Stokes on if playing three games in five days will cause any sort of fatigue: “Well we’re still young. I don’t feel like my legs are tired. Sort of reminds me of the AAU days.”
By the numbers:
0: UMass didn’t get a single point from its bench in the first half.
31: The Vols attempted 31 free throws, their highest total since Jan. 22 in a win over Arkansas.
2: UT was 2-of-14 (14 percent) from behind the arc, marking its fifth straight game shooting less than 30 percent from deep.
Up next: The Vols will face Mercer on Sunday in the Round of 32 with the winner advancing to the Sweet Sixteen in Indianapolis. The 14-seed Bears upset perennial powerhouse Duke in the opening game at PNC Arena.