Mike Strange: Despite rep, Cuonzo Martin not afraid for Vols to shoot

Mike Strange

The good news from Tennessee's exhibition game Monday night was that the Vols had to negotiate some late-game tension.

The experience should prove helpful on tense nights to come.

The bad news is, well, that the Vols had to negotiate some late-game tension.

That was Lincoln Memorial University, the little school from up the road in Harrogate, slicing a 22-point lead to four at one point late in the second half.

In 13 days, the Vols will be on an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean five time zones away from friendly Thompson-Boling Arena and the competition will be national powerhouse Duke.

But not to get ahead of the story.

All ended satisfactorily for the home team on this night, a 76-67 exhibition victory. New coach Cuonzo Martin won his two exhibitions and each, in its own way, prepared his team for the season-opener Friday night against UNC-Greensboro.

Last Thursday, Carson-Newman did the favor of throwing a zone defense

at the Vols. They needed the practice and eventually warmed up to it and won by 19.

LMU provided a more meaningful 40-minute test. The Railsplitters are coming off a 27-3 season and are picked high in the NCAA Division II preseason polls.

"Most teams wouldn't play those guys because of what they bring to the table,'' said Martin.

Most of the Vols had played against many of the Railsplitters in the Rocky Top summer league and were aware of what they brought to the table.

The most productive inside player on the floor wore blue. Jake Troyli, a 6-foot-9 transfer from Presbyterian College, scored 25 points for LMU on 9-of-11 shooting.

Tennessee's two inside starters, Kenny Hall and Jeronne Maymon, were a combined 4-of-13 from the field. Both were in foul trouble too early and neither Renaldo Woolridge nor Yemi Makanjuola provided offensive spark off the bench.

The offensive spark came from the long-range gunners. The Vols took 31 of their 64 shots from 3-point range.

This, apparently, is no fluke. Against Carson-Newman, the Vols launched 31 of 58 shots from behind the arc.

What with Martin's reputation for defense, rebounding and a disciplined motion offense, I wasn't expecting 30 treys a game.

"I don't think we'll keep putting up 30 threes a game,'' said senior Cam Tatum, "but we do enjoy a coach that doesn't mind that.''

He really doesn't. Martin was, after all, a terrific 3-point shooter in his days at Purdue. This is a guy who once drained eight 3-pointers in an NCAA tournament game against Kansas right here in Thompson-Boling Arena.

"The key,'' Martin said, "is who's shooting them. If you have an open shot, you have to let it fly.''

I wasn't the only one surprised by this aspect of the new era. Sophomore Trae Golden admitted he was, too.

"He says if we play defense,'' said Golden, "our offense will come.''

And come from downtown. Golden is a combined 7-of-16 from 3-point range in the two exhibitions.

He had another strong box score Monday night — 22 points on 6-of-13 shooting, four rebounds, eight assists and zero turnovers.

Asked if he was prouder of the points or the assists, Golden's answer was quick.

"Eight assists, no turnovers,'' he said. "I'm a point guard.''

And as such, he's a little concerned with the offensive distribution from the two trial runs. He described Hall and Maymon as "bread-and-butter" guys.

"I really want to get our big guys going,'' he said. "I know Jay (Maymon) and Kenny want to get their engines going.

"Jay didn't finish like he wanted to but I know he's going to get better at that. We're going to keep feeding him and Kenny.''

In fact, that's exactly what UT did when LMU cut the lead to 69-63 with 4:03 left.

Coming out of a timeout with a designed play, Tatum fed Maymon on the block and the result was a strong move for a basket. The play helped the Vols weather the final minutes.

"I really saw a team that did not panic,'' said Tatum.

That's a worthwhile lesson to remember now that the games are about to get real.

The Vols might have the green light, but they'll need those bread-and-butter guys, too.

Mike Strange may be reached at strangem@knoxnews.com. Follow him at http://twitter.com/strangemike44 and http://blogs.knoxnews.com/strange.

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Comments » 12

azorange writes:

I'm in Arizona so I could only listen to the game via my phone app so I wasn't able to see what was happening on the floor. I couldn't help but wonder why we weren't successful pounding the ball in down low. I'm wondering too if our guys are playing down to the level they perceive the other teams to be especially since these games have been exhibitions. Hope they're ready and able to kick up a notch on Friday and for their trip to Hawaii.

I'm excited to see what these Vols can do. Good luck and go Big Orange.

CoverOrange writes:

Is there a guy named McRae on this team? Did he play last night?

volinuptonky writes:

The most positive thing I saw last night was Maymon 7 for 7 at the free throw line (think it was 7 for 7.) Does not look like the same player as last year. He is still going to have a tough time with some of the big men in the SEC but being able to shoot free throws is going to help a whole lot.

Halls3 writes:

I was at the game last night & UT looks better in a few ways. They can finally hit free throws. They are more aggressive in the post. Woolridge is finally looking like a 4 star player. The defense still lapses at times but that's expected under a first year coach with a new scheme. Remember, Pearl didn't exactly get a ton out of this team last year with better players. Martin has them playing with fire & more confidence.

VolunteerLifer writes:

I think it's a nice win against a good team, and I'm not complaining, but it isn't good when a Div II big man goes 9-11 and scores 25 on our bigs. It looks like the perimeter defense is ahead of the inside defense at this point. Hopefully, Kenny Hall can improve defensively as we go. We have a couple of games before we go to Hawaii to try to get better. All in all, I'm encouraged by what we seen now.

Halls3 writes:

in response to VolunteerLifer:

I think it's a nice win against a good team, and I'm not complaining, but it isn't good when a Div II big man goes 9-11 and scores 25 on our bigs. It looks like the perimeter defense is ahead of the inside defense at this point. Hopefully, Kenny Hall can improve defensively as we go. We have a couple of games before we go to Hawaii to try to get better. All in all, I'm encouraged by what we seen now.

The kid wasn't a typical big. He hit 3 or 4 three pointers. Not many big men in the SEC do that. Inside he wasn't that strong to be honest except for on a couple of defensive lapses. You are right though, Hall still has a lot of work to do defensively before Maui.

hikerdude writes:

in response to volinuptonky:

The most positive thing I saw last night was Maymon 7 for 7 at the free throw line (think it was 7 for 7.) Does not look like the same player as last year. He is still going to have a tough time with some of the big men in the SEC but being able to shoot free throws is going to help a whole lot.

The 7 for 7 FTs was great The fact that Golden got 8 assists and no turn overs is great also. We haven't had a true point guard in a long time and we've needed one.

carbonzip writes:

Golden looked teriffic, Maymon looked really good, Woolridge looks like a contributer, and Newton is a wrecking ball on defense. Yemi looks like an SEC center and is learning fast. Team corrected a lot of problems from the CN game and looks well coached. Maybe, Martin doesn't want to show his inside plan before Hawaii.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to carbonzip:

Golden looked teriffic, Maymon looked really good, Woolridge looks like a contributer, and Newton is a wrecking ball on defense. Yemi looks like an SEC center and is learning fast. Team corrected a lot of problems from the CN game and looks well coached. Maybe, Martin doesn't want to show his inside plan before Hawaii.

I would like to think that were true, but considering the Vols didn't have an overpowering inside game last year with a much bigger team, I would think that they would want to develop some consistency in that aspect before they go against, say, Duke's skyscrapers. I think the post players CAN do better, but they have a ways to go before they are real threats inside on offense.

Agree completely that Maymon and Golden in particular look reborn this season. The two I expect the most improvement from going forward are Hall and McRae. Hall looks too passive except when he is grabbing and bumping people and McRae just looks out of control right now; his timing and judgment are just awful. I think he has a HUGE upside, but he seems to be pressing and trying to do too much without reference to what the rest of the team is trying to do at any given time.

carbonzip writes:

in response to johnlg00:

I would like to think that were true, but considering the Vols didn't have an overpowering inside game last year with a much bigger team, I would think that they would want to develop some consistency in that aspect before they go against, say, Duke's skyscrapers. I think the post players CAN do better, but they have a ways to go before they are real threats inside on offense.

Agree completely that Maymon and Golden in particular look reborn this season. The two I expect the most improvement from going forward are Hall and McRae. Hall looks too passive except when he is grabbing and bumping people and McRae just looks out of control right now; his timing and judgment are just awful. I think he has a HUGE upside, but he seems to be pressing and trying to do too much without reference to what the rest of the team is trying to do at any given time.

My opinion, McRae needs to stop trying to be dazzling and concentrate on patience and shot selection. Four made shots of any kind per half and four made foul shots per game and he can be an all-SEC candidate.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to carbonzip:

My opinion, McRae needs to stop trying to be dazzling and concentrate on patience and shot selection. Four made shots of any kind per half and four made foul shots per game and he can be an all-SEC candidate.

Agree completely. As I said on another thread, he needs to have better judgment about when and how to take it to the basket and concentrate only on the rim when he goes in there rather than TRYING to draw contact. Skinny as he is, he WILL draw contact; the main thing is to shoot it to MAKE it, regardless of contact. He has a nice limber body which allows him to take contact on the body without disrupting his shooting motion.

Teamguy writes:

in response to 10seVol85:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

You're kidding right?

Jordan Mcrae may become an all SEC type guy. Either way, lets not base anything on The Busch league.

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