Cuonzo Martin tweeted on Friday that he would make fans who didn’t wear orange to Saturday’s game between Tennessee and Vanderbilt run sprints.
The threat paid off.
The Volunteers (18-13, 10-6 SEC) brought their “hard hats” and physically dominated the Commodores (21-10, 10-6) in a 68-61 victory in front of a rowdy Thompson-Boling Arena capacity crowd of 22,172.
“That’s what our guys appreciate and that’s what they need,” Martin said. “That gets you over the hump. You have an atmosphere like that, you’ve got a chance to be special as a team. It means so much to our program from a recruiting standpoint and to the players’ psyche. It was great. A lot of credit to our fans for stepping up and representing like Tennessee knows how.”
The win ensured UT a first-round bye in this week’s SEC Men’s Tournament, and the Vols finished in second place in the conference standings after Kentucky’s victory over Florida on Sunday. UT has won eight of its last nine games, and the late-season surge has given the Vols the opportunity to play their way into the NCAA Tournament after struggling early in the season.
“We’re not the same team that lost at the beginning of the season compared to now,” sophomore guard Trae Golden said. “To say we’ve made such a considerable growth in such a small period of time, I just think the sky’s the limit.”
Cameron Tatum, after being honored before the game along with Renaldo Woolridge and Tyler Summitt, made the most of his Senior Day. The fifth-year senior guard, who’s battled injuries and inconsistent play for much of his UT career, led the Vols with 18 points, his second highest scoring total of the season.
“I had chills throughout the whole game,” Tatum said. “I knew it was going to be a great day for us. It was absolutely awesome. I could not script it any better.”
Golden chipped in 17 points, marking the ninth consecutive game he’s scored at least 10 points.
“I’ve said it before — any time Trae Golden plays to a high level, not necessarily how many points he scores, but when he is in the game mentally, we’re tough to beat,” Martin said.
Big men Jeronne Maymon (12) and Jarnell Stokes (11) each scored in double figures for the Vols. Stokes also had career-highs in rebounds (14) and blocks (5).
“I just played my role and boxed out,” Stokes said. “I think I did a great job of boxing out, getting rebounds and doing stuff that does not show up on the stat sheet. I was surprised I got five blocks.”
UT took a 30-29 lead into the locker room after a back-and-forth first half. Vandy’s Jeffery Taylor, the SEC’s second-leading scorer behind teammate John Jenkins, was held scoreless in the first half, and finished with 10 points. Jenkins scored 18, but it came on 5-of-15 shooting, including just 3-of-10 from 3-point range.
“Their perimeter guys were light years better than ours today,” VU coach Kevin Stallings said.
Tatum scored six points during an 11-0 Vols’ run to give UT a 43-36 lead early in the second period. Vandy trailed by as many as nine points in the second half, but battled back to trail 56-53 with just over four minutes remaining. But the Vols would make their free throws down the stretch (20-of-25 in the second half), and avenge the 65-47 loss to Vandy in Nashville on Jan. 24.
UT will play Friday at 7:30 p.m. against the winner of Ole Miss and Auburn, who play in the SEC Tournament’s opening round on Thursday.
‘Physical’ Vols top ’Dores, finish second in SEC
Published: Mon Mar 05, 2012
Matthew DeMaria • The Daily Beacon