Mike Strange: Vols get that elusive quality win

Mike Strange
Tennessee head coach Cuonzo Martin celebrates with his players after a Jordan McRae three pointer in the second half against Wichita State at Thompson-Boling Arena Thursday, Dec. 13, 2012. (ADAM BRIMER/NEWS SENTINEL)

Photo by Adam Brimer, Knoxville News Sentinel

Tennessee head coach Cuonzo Martin celebrates with his players after a Jordan McRae three pointer in the second half against Wichita State at Thompson-Boling Arena Thursday, Dec. 13, 2012. (ADAM BRIMER/NEWS SENTINEL)

On a night designated to pay tribute to the late coach Ray Mears, Tennessee pulled out all the stops.

There were orange blazers scattered around Thompson-Boling Arena. The Mears family and a gaggle of former players took the court at halftime. Highlight clips on the JumboTron relived some of the good old days.

And, brother, those were some eye-catching throwback, orange-and-white striped warmup suits.

But the purest form of tribute to the memory of Ray Mears on Thursday night was the way the Vols gutted out a 69-60 win over 23rd-ranked Wichita State.

"We can't allow anybody to come in our house and beat us,'' said guard Trae Golden. "It was Ray Mears' night so we had to make sure we came out with the 'W.' "

Mears, who coached his last game in 1977, would have approved. But so did his current counterpart, Cuonzo Martin, who presumably has many games yet to coach.

The famously even-keeled Martin doesn't like to build up one game more than another. But make no mistake, this was a big win.

"I told the guys it was a must win before the game,'' said Golden, who carried the scoring load with 25 points. "I knew it was a must win.''

Is it jumping the gun to describe any mid-December non-conference game as a must win?

I'm going with Golden here and making a case for must-win given the context of Tennessee's season to date.

The Vols had played three hi-quality opponents and not beaten any of them. Losing to Oklahoma State in Puerto Rico last month wasn't so critical.

But after falling short at Georgetown and Virginia prior to an eight-day layoff, another loss to the Shockers would have been a blow to both Tennessee's midseason confidence and its postseason resume.

Instead, a win that is a much-needed feather in UT's orange cap. The Shockers might not hail from a so-called power conference but this should stand up as a power win for the Vols all the way to March.

Wichita had already won at VCU, and beaten DePaul, Iowa and Tulsa on the way to a 9-0 start, which is why the Shockers were packing a hefty No. 18 RPI.

"On our schedule,'' said Martin, "I wondered why we were doing this? I knew what they bring to the table.''

And they were bringing it to the table right as the Vols were trying to fight their way out of an offensive funk.

They scored 74 points against Georgetown and Virginia. Not 74 against each — 74 combined.

Wichita State isn't the kind of team against which you count on getting well. Coach Gregg Marshall's guys contest every shot, every pass, every rebound.

Martin turned that to UT's advantage by demanding his guards be aggressive and attack the rim.

"We took a lot of time since the last two losses of attacking off the dribble,'' Martin said. "We need to be aggressive, get in the paint and make the referee make a call. We did that tonight.''

The result was 36 free throws. The Vols rose to the occasion and hit 29 of them. That would have gotten a thumbs-up from Mears.

So, final exams are over in the classroom. And Thursday night was essentially a final exam on the court. Everybody can take a deep breath now.

Those 30-something scoring funks are put to bed. Tennessee at last has a worthy win over a quality opponent.

"We've got to take this win and run with it into January,'' said Jordan McRae, who contributed 17 vital points off the bench.''

Said Golden, "We don't really put pressure on ourselves, but Georgetown, Virginia, we could have won those games.''

They won this one. Keep hope alive.

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

© 2012 govolsxtra.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Comments » 32

voltrumpet writes:

Big win tonight! Let's hope the free throw shooting continues at this level. Now I feel like I can exhale....was beginning to think the basketball team was about to follow the football program. Big confidence-building win against a very good basketball team. gbo baby....

kyvol98 writes:

Absolutely a must win game. FT's DO make a difference! I liked the aggression getting the ball to the hole. Defense is solid, for the most part, but our offense is better when we play at the faster pace.

ashvol7 writes:

in response to ROCKY_TOP_HAS_CRUMBLED:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

"Even a dog finds a bone sometimes" Why a comment like this after a really good win. You aren't happy when they lose and winning doesn't help you any either. People like you shouldn't even be around UT sports.

JSmith525 writes:

in response to ROCKY_TOP_HAS_CRUMBLED:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Good morning "numb-chops" have a most awesome day!

mocsandvolsfan writes:

Every win is a quality win! But I suppose I know what you mean. I guess. Me I like tough defensive games and I don't even mind low scoring. A win is a win and this one was great. Tough hard fought . NO QUIT!

SouthPaVol writes:

Quality win. Yemi played hard; Both Trae and JM scored well and hit their free throws--both drove the ball well to the basket.

We won this game without Maymon or Stokes--Maymon was hurt and Stokes was double teamed, in foul trouble, and pretty much ineffective. Would like to see player cuts and back cuts improve when Stokes touches the ball. If opponents are going to double team, we should get an open shot somewhere. Either Stokes scores double figures or assists in double figures. Perhaps this is a bit over-critical, but Stokes is so good and we expect so much of him.

Bottom line though, team played hard and got a good win. Go Vols!

mocsandvolsfan writes:

What's a guy gotta do to get his post to take!!

Again- I don't care if we win by a lot of points as long as we win! A win is a win. This was a great win against a very good team. We fought hard the whole game. We didn't quit.

GBO

mocsandvolsfan writes:

OK this time it took and brought back the other post. Sorry to be redundant but it wasn't my fault.

doubledeuce22Q writes:

Much needed win for this team. A few thought from a basketball mind; I was very pleased to see that the things that I ranted on after the Virginia and Georgetown games were much improved...those things were 1-being the aggressor off the dribble and making the defense collapse, 2-free throw shooting, and 3-using the bounce pass entry to the post. They vastly improved on all 3. I am still extremely worried about facing a team that goes to a zone defense because we haven't proven that we can be anything close to effective against the zone. Hopefully the next stretch of being at home and practice time will give us time to work hard on that and hopefully not forget it. Stokes is a huge factor inside with ball control and scoring, and he needs to learn to play smarter with 3 and 4 fouls. Very proud of Mcrae and Yemi, they played thier tails off, and Trae lived up to his abilities at the scoring point. I was most pleased to hear Jordan say after the game that the difference was that they only shot 10 3 pointers...hopefully he gets the big picture and will become that lengthy slasher that we so desperately need. Jordan has all the potential in the world if he plays the game that way. Very proud of our guys, now lets just hope that if one of these crappy teams jumps into a zone in the next few games that we can be somewhat effective at scoring. Go Vols, VFL!

bigdisbig writes:

Good win for certain. Its good to see the Vols finally hit the free throws. I wish they would try to work it down low to the big men more though. Skyler is a good shooter but he couldn't guard Fred Sanford if he had to. He HAS to learn to keep his man in front of him. Every guy he guards blows around him it seems. I hope we can get Maymon back in time for SEC play.

orangecountyvols writes:

Vols,

Great win. Wish I could have found it on t.v. somewhere.

As for the troll, rocky top crumbling........remember this. Just like the other column about the game, and the 2 trolls title village plus waffle head, understand these trolls are all band wagon people looking for attention. We enjoy our parade, and they are on a side street making a lot of racket.........craving attn for their own band wagon team.

Volbound1700 writes:

People were down on Martin and this team after the last two losses. We don't have the perimeter shooting at the moment but Martin is recruiting well. This team plays great D and has been great at getting rebounds (I did think they slipped a little last night). I do think Skyler McBee should be 2nd string and Jordan McCrae should take his place as a starter. I really liked the effort of Makanjoula. Trae Golden and Makanjoula were the best players on the court that night. I think winning out the non-conference games is a possibility which would also give us decent wins over Xavier and Memphis. Still wish we could have hit the final shot against Georgetwon, it would have been big RPI wise but I do think tourny committee will see that the game could have gone easily in our favor if a shot had dropped.

VOLSnTITANS writes:

Early Christmas gift from Wichita st. by not watching any film on us otherwise they would have played zone D all night.

All-in-all a solid victory, improvements across the board. My only concern is how badly Stokes got worked most of the game.

underthehill writes:

Total of 13 points from 4 starters..you would expect to lose..and you will most of the time..but the bench and Golden came thru..definitely a good sign for team depth..Lopez and Mak made huge contributions..Lopez adds a lot of quickness on defense as well as getting the ball where it needs to go..Mak has the don't back down attitude that picks up the whole team...still need Maymon but good sign to win w/o your best player..

johnlg00 writes:

in response to SouthPaVol:

Quality win. Yemi played hard; Both Trae and JM scored well and hit their free throws--both drove the ball well to the basket.

We won this game without Maymon or Stokes--Maymon was hurt and Stokes was double teamed, in foul trouble, and pretty much ineffective. Would like to see player cuts and back cuts improve when Stokes touches the ball. If opponents are going to double team, we should get an open shot somewhere. Either Stokes scores double figures or assists in double figures. Perhaps this is a bit over-critical, but Stokes is so good and we expect so much of him.

Bottom line though, team played hard and got a good win. Go Vols!

Good points about Yemi, Trae, and Jordan; no question they all came to play last night. It was good to see them open up the court a little bit. They were kinda shaky in the early going but they stayed with it and got more efficient as the game went along. Jarnell had a couple of tough calls go against him; on one play in the lane, he was up against Hall, Wichita's great post player, and backing up all the way while Hall just drove him back with a shoulder and the refs called the foul on Jarnell. It must help the team's morale to win against a quality opponent with minimal contributions from arguably their most important player, but his play will likely determine how far they go this season, so we can hope this was not typical of what we can expect going forward.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to doubledeuce22Q:

Much needed win for this team. A few thought from a basketball mind; I was very pleased to see that the things that I ranted on after the Virginia and Georgetown games were much improved...those things were 1-being the aggressor off the dribble and making the defense collapse, 2-free throw shooting, and 3-using the bounce pass entry to the post. They vastly improved on all 3. I am still extremely worried about facing a team that goes to a zone defense because we haven't proven that we can be anything close to effective against the zone. Hopefully the next stretch of being at home and practice time will give us time to work hard on that and hopefully not forget it. Stokes is a huge factor inside with ball control and scoring, and he needs to learn to play smarter with 3 and 4 fouls. Very proud of Mcrae and Yemi, they played thier tails off, and Trae lived up to his abilities at the scoring point. I was most pleased to hear Jordan say after the game that the difference was that they only shot 10 3 pointers...hopefully he gets the big picture and will become that lengthy slasher that we so desperately need. Jordan has all the potential in the world if he plays the game that way. Very proud of our guys, now lets just hope that if one of these crappy teams jumps into a zone in the next few games that we can be somewhat effective at scoring. Go Vols, VFL!

Excellent comment; agree with all. The guys played to win last night and stayed with their strategy even when it wasn't working early.

hikerdude writes:

Good win. Some of my preseason optimism has returned. McBee continues to disappoint. As per usual, he was assigned to guard the slowest man on the other team and still couldn't guard him. And, when he had to switch to guard another player, he really had no chance. I haven't checked the stats, but I think he had more turnovers than points. He needs to sit.

BIVOLAR_BEARE writes:

in response to collegegrovebilly:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Good points, Martin should have this team pass more and never pick up a dribble unless you are certain where you want to deliver the ball. McRae in particular stops the ball too much, and Hall and Stokes need to go straight to the basket more, but all in all they played much better on offense. I still dread it when teams use the zone though..GBO!!

CoverOrange writes:

Does anyone know why they chose this game to honor Mears as opposed to, say, Kentucky?

Also, how many remember that Gregg Marshall was one of the names being bandied about to coach UT a couple of years ago?

BIVOLAR_BEARE writes:

in response to CoverOrange:

Does anyone know why they chose this game to honor Mears as opposed to, say, Kentucky?

Also, how many remember that Gregg Marshall was one of the names being bandied about to coach UT a couple of years ago?

Don't have a clue why they chose a game that Mears probably never coached against? As for Marshall, he's the real deal. In fact I was hoping for him if Jay Wright didn't get the hire..Boy, was I in for a surprise.

murrayvol writes:

in response to ashvol7:

"Even a dog finds a bone sometimes" Why a comment like this after a really good win. You aren't happy when they lose and winning doesn't help you any either. People like you shouldn't even be around UT sports.

He's not "around UT sports" ashvol. He's around this board....nothing more.

murrayvol writes:

in response to titletownz:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

I'd settle for KNS taking you off their payroll.

murrayvol writes:

in response to SouthPaVol:

Quality win. Yemi played hard; Both Trae and JM scored well and hit their free throws--both drove the ball well to the basket.

We won this game without Maymon or Stokes--Maymon was hurt and Stokes was double teamed, in foul trouble, and pretty much ineffective. Would like to see player cuts and back cuts improve when Stokes touches the ball. If opponents are going to double team, we should get an open shot somewhere. Either Stokes scores double figures or assists in double figures. Perhaps this is a bit over-critical, but Stokes is so good and we expect so much of him.

Bottom line though, team played hard and got a good win. Go Vols!

Good take SouthPa but we seem to have a problem making open shots consistently.

RockyTop1_old writes:

in response to ROCKY_TOP_HAS_CRUMBLED:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Geez...get A LIFE!!

RockyTop1_old writes:

GREAT WIN!! Now lets take care of the cupcakes and work on scoring as we head toward the SEC gauntlet!! VFL!!

lemme_axya_this writes:

in response to ROCKY_TOP_HAS_CRUMBLED:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

I'll bet your proctologist has found a few bones too.

OrangePride writes:

This was a great win and certainly a LOT more difficult to get than the score might suggest. The Vols had to fight their way back after going behind late in the second half, but slashing guard play and great foul shooting really put us over the top. But it has become increasingly clear that our post play is very shaky without Maymon. As soon as the ball comes inside to JS or anyone else, the defense collapses and often causes turnovers. You would think this would open up those 3 point plays, but those haven't been falling and to me it looks like we may have lost our confidence shooting them. I can tell you one thing, though.....this team hustles and competes every minute of the game! They are a fun group to watch. GREAT WIN VOLS!!

TheRealDragonSlayer writes:

in response to titletownz:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Just like your mother was when you were accidentally conceived. You should be the poster child for the Pro-Choice movement.

SummittsCourt writes:

in response to titletownz:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

what a waste of flesh you are.

lstbodeanvol writes:

in response to titletownz:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

ahhhhhhh alliGator vs. Vols 2011-2012 SWEEP SWEEP SWEEP SWEEP EDDIE MUNSTER

carbonzip writes:

Yemi stepped up big time against Hall. Golden played the way Martin has wanted. McCrae solid and Richardson was like Plastic Man with arms and hands stretching out to interfere with Wichita's offense. Carl hall was a monster. Good win.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to collegegrovebilly:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Good point. The players move more when the ball is being passed around than they do when everybody stops to watch somebody dribbling. This seems even odder given the emphasis on pure speed in today's game. Again, I think this goes back the lack of fundamentals being taught in kids' leagues these days. If you watch the NBA much, it often seems that European players have better fundamentals in areas like passing, cutting, and pure shooting. This is because European coaches usually come from a physical education background in which the main objective of coaching is development of a player's fundamental skills. In the US, even at the lowest age-groups, the emphasis is more on winning, and the coaches play the more advanced players more and sit the less-skilled players as much as possible. Practice is far more about team strategy than skill development. This tendency becomes stronger at each higher level of competition.

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