The red-hot Volunteers, behind a career day from Jordan McRae, extended their win streak to four games with an 82-72 win over the Louisiana State University Tigers (15-9, 6-7 SEC) on Tuesday night.
Tennessee (15-10, 7-6 SEC), coming off Saturday's 30-point win over Kentucky, was led by McRae's career-high 34 points. Head coach Cuonzo Martin said he liked the way McRae didn't force up any shots and took what the defense gave him.
"I thought he did a good job scoring the basketball. The way (LSU) plays is they space you out, give you opportunities to make plays," Martin said. "But one thing about those guys is when they get down 10 or 15, they are still in the ball game. We felt like the backside of their press was the opportunity for us to score, and Jordan did a great job."
Junior guard Trae Golden, who has played with McRae since they were in middle school and chipped in 20 points of his own, said it was hard not to just sit back and watch him take over the game.
"I've played with Jordan since we were 12 or 13 years-old, so I kind of know when he gets in this mode, so I just give him the ball," Golden said. "Coach Martin was getting mad at me. I was just standing there at half court because I knew he was going to make a play."
Golden has been a big reason why the Vols are on their current four-game winning streak, averaging 18.7 points per game since coming back from a hamstring injury he suffered on January 29th. Golden missed two games, forcing McRae to pitch in minutes at the point guard position. McRae said he's glad that Golden is back and that he doesn't have to bring the ball up the court anymore.
"Trae is really the floor general on our team," McRae said. "He makes plays for everybody else, and when Trae is playing like this and Jarnell (Stokes) is playing how he is, it lets me get my shots up."
McRae isn't the only Vol getting his shots up and hitting them. Over the past two games, Tennessee is 15-20 from beyond the arc. Coach Martin gives credit to Stokes' improved play, freeing up shooters to fire up the three.
"This is the team we thought we could be offensively, but I think it started when Jarnell 'identified' himself as the go-to guy," Martin said. "When he made his presence known around the rim being aggressive, looking for the ball, everything falls in line. ... We have to go through Jarnell in order to have success and I think that's the reason we are doing what we are doing."
The Vols are still on the outside looking in when it comes to the NCAA Tournament, but more wins like this one could help Tennessee's resume. Martin said he still has confidence in his team to keep competing.
"I think we are playing good basketball, but there is still progress to be made," Martin said. "Hopefully we'll continue to score the ball and compete."