RALEIGH, N.C. — It was supposed to be a sign of things to come. After all, Tennessee's come-from-behind, overtime win over Iowa back in Dayton, Ohio, Wednesday night mirrored the knockdown, drag-out style that is the norm in the NCAA tournament.
On Friday, the Volunteers weren't having any of that. They simply continued what they finished the regular season doing — blowing out overmatched opponents.
No matter if this one was a 24-win Massachusetts team.
Tennessee throttled No. 6-seeded UMass on Friday, 86-67, sprinting out to a 19-point halftime lead and emphatically one-upping every blow the Minutemen hurled the Vols' way.
The striking contrasts between the thrilling Iowa win Wednesday and a snoozer of a second half Friday stuck out more noticeably than the sprinkles of orange among the 16,988 inside PNC Arena — not to mention the former came against a fellow 11-seed and the latter a 6-seed.
But apparently, the pit stop in Dayton was just what the Vols needed to get the jitters out.
"I do think it helped us, getting a game under our belts," head coach Cuonzo Martin, who improved to 2-0 in the NCAA tournament, said. "Just getting on the floor of the game, get your feet wet, so to speak."
No UT player showed that more than Jarnell Stokes. The junior forward finished with a career-high 26 points and 14 rebounds, going 7-of-11 from the field and canning 12 of his 13 free-throw attempts.
"That's Jarnell every night," point guard Antonio Barton said. "He's a force to be reckoned with down there. If any team is guarding him one-on-one, he's gonna perform like that all of the time."
Senior big man Jeronne Maymon joined Stokes in exploiting the Minutemen down low, securing a double-double himself with 11 points and 11 boards.
For Jordan McRae, who added 21 points of his own, the Vols' advantage in the post was evident from the moment they glanced at the scouting report. UMass' undersized frontcourt didn't match up well with a pair of 260-pounders in Maymon and Stokes.
"UMass is a kind of team that is real long, but they're light," McRae said. "So going into the game, we kind of knew we had the advantage inside.
"We knew that before the game started. You look down their sheet, 6-10, 200 (pounds), you know."
UMass led for all of seven seconds Friday. It held a 2-0 lead before McRae drilled a 3-pointer, marking the start of a first-half beat down.
McRae's next three came just before the first-half buzzer and gave the Vols a commanding, 41-22 halftime lead.
At that point, UT looked poised to run UMass out of the gym — then the Minutemen went on a 6-0 run to start the second half.
A few minutes later, they cut the deficit to 10 after Sampson Carter hit two straight 3-pointers.
"It's the (NCAA) tournament," McRae said. "You're not just about to have an easy road. You can be up 20 (points), that 20 can turn into five quick."
Fortunately for the Vols, 20 didn't turn into five. It turned into 10. And that was enough to wake the Vols up in the second half.
"We just kept saying to keep our feet on the gas pedal," Josh Richardson said. "That was the biggest thing for us, and we did that."
The Vols' star-studded trio of McRae, Stokes and Maymon led them away from a potentially dangerous second half, quelling the fire that the Minutemen entered the final frame with.
After UMass cut it to 46-36, Stokes, Maymon and McRae scored the Vols' next 15 points.
"I'd say the three-headed kind of group of (Stokes, Maymon) and McRae," UMass head coach Derek Kellogg said. "Those are a good one, two, three combination. Their complementary players also know their roles and play really well.
"They're playing really well right now."
The next Vol to score, Richardson, pushed the lead back to 21 points with his signature midrange jumper.
Less than a minute later, both coaches were emptying their benches.
"We came in locked in, ready for battle," Antonio Barton said. "A lot of people was saying this was gonna be an upset, but we didn't look at it as an upset. We came in knowing we wanted to win this game."
With the win, the Vols advance to face 14-seeded Mercer on Sunday for a spot in the Sweet 16. The Bears pulled the upset of the NCAA tournament thus far by beating 3-seeded Duke.