Toughness can show itself in many forms.
The Tennessee men’s basketball team displayed its growth from a mental standpoint on Monday night.
The Vols stayed poised despite a furious Lincoln Memorial University rally en route to a 76-67 victory in their second and final exhibition game of the preseason.
An announced crowd of 15,424 at Thompson-Boling Arena slid closer to the edge of their seats when the Division II Railsplitters, ranked No. 2 nationally in preseason polls, closed within four points on a Cam Carden 3-pointer with 6:56 remaining.
Golden, Georgia’s High School Player of the Year two seasons ago, calmly drained a 3-pointer to cap his 22-point, eight-assist performance. Jordan McRae followed with a steal and pass to senior Cam Tatum (13 points), who dunked in transition to keep LMU at bay.
The Railsplitters, led by Jake Troyli’s 25 points, failed to draw closer than six the remainder of the game.
“I credit the team for not panicking and just continuing to play ball and executing our offense,’’ said Tatum, who erased any doubts about the outcome with a minute left by draining a 3-pointer that put the Vols up by 11. “But we have to stay attached to our defensive principles for the whole 40 minutes, and we can’t have any letups like that again.’’
Indeed, Tatum had hit a 3-pointer with 16:15 left that gave the Vols a 56-34 lead before LMU rallied.
Carden’s 3-pointer capped a 15-2 Railsplitters run that saw UT miss nine consecutive shots and get beat down the floor in transition.
Martin harped on the defensive “slippage” and ball security issues in the second half, but he said things like that can happen if a team’s not careful.
“When you have such a big lead in the first half, something is bound to happen,’’ said Martin, whose team took a 44-26 lead into the half. “You’re moving guys in and out trying to get them minutes, but you’re also trying to win the game.’’
The Vols opened the game 1-of-8 shooting but hit their next six shots from floor and three from the free-throw line in the midst of a 19-0 run to go ahead 21-3. Skylar McBee (11 points) hit consecutive 3-pointers to cap the run.
“We came out a little starry-eyed and got down,’’ LMU coach Josh Schertz said. “We didn’t come in to play it close ... we came in here to try to win.’’
Martin knew the game was far from over at the half and said there’s no shame in the nine-point victory margin.
“We beat a quality opponent, a tough, physical opponent, tougher than I thought they’d be, I knew they’d be good, but they were better than I thought they would be,’’ Martin said.
“I can’t worry about what some people might think. Our job is to win ballgames and get our guys better.’’
UT’s Jeronne Maymon posted his second double-double with 11 points and 11 rebounds and hit 7-of-7 shots from the free-throw line, and center Kenny Hall had eight points and 10 rebounds.
Desmond Johnson, the reigning South Atlantic Conference Player of the Year, had 11 points and 10 rebounds for LMU.
UT returns to action at 7 p.m. Friday when it plays host to UNC Greensboro in both teams’ season-opening game.