Mike Strange: Scouting report depends on Jordan McRae

Mike Strange
Tennessee forward Jordan McRae (52) goes in for a dunk but is denied by Georgia forward Marcus Thornton (2) during the second half at Thompson-Boling Arena Saturday, Feb. 4, 2012.  Tennessee won 73-62 over Georgia.  (ADAM BRIMER/NEWS SENTINEL)

Photo by Adam Brimer, copyright © 2012

Tennessee forward Jordan McRae (52) goes in for a dunk but is denied by Georgia forward Marcus Thornton (2) during the second half at Thompson-Boling Arena Saturday, Feb. 4, 2012. Tennessee won 73-62 over Georgia. (ADAM BRIMER/NEWS SENTINEL)

Forward Jordan McRae on scoring 14 against UGA

I pity the teams who have to prepare a scouting report on Tennessee. There's invariably a lot of wasted time.

Georgia found that out Saturday night. After breaking down the tape of the Vols' loss at Kentucky on Tuesday night, there was no doubt considerable energy spent on how to prevent Renaldo Woolridge from going off on a 3-point spree.

The Bulldogs needn't have bothered. Woolridge made a cameo appearance Saturday night at Thompson-Boling Arena. Three minutes in the first half. Over and out.

Jordan McRae, on the other hand, made only a cameo appearance in the Kentucky videotape.

There was no reason for Georgia coach Mark Fox to stop the tape and shout, "Listen up, guys! Here's the dude we've got to stop Saturday in Knoxville.''

And yet that's how it turned out. McRae was the Vol who stuck the dagger in Georgia's side time and again in a tense second half.

Tennessee doesn't get a 73-62 victory over the SEC's lowliest team without McRae making a series of shots and plays that would have done erstwhile Georgia-killer Chris Lofton proud.

McRae scored 14 points on 5-of-9 shooting. He made three of five shots from 3-point land. He played 24 minutes with two assists and without a turnover.

"He's getting better,'' said coach Cuonzo Martin, the sole arbiter of playing time.

"He's also putting in the time in the gym. That's why you see those results. There's no magic trick. Put the time in the gym consistently and the results will eventually follow.''

McRae definitely got results against Georgia. It wasn't just what he did. It was when he did it.

When the Vols came out flat after intermission, Georgia jumped out to a 41-34 lead. McRae stuck a 3-pointer that launched a 9-0 Tennessee run to give the Vols a 43-41 lead with 12:46 left.

UT's lead was a tentative 51-47 with the shot clock ticking down to nothing when McRae launched from the key with a hand in his face and found the net.

"That takes something out of any team,'' McRae said, "to play defense for the whole clock and somebody hits a shot up in the shot clock. It hurts.''

It wouldn't be the last time Georgia would feel that pain.

With 5:44 left and Georgia still hanging around, McRae drilled another 3-pointer to give UT its biggest lead, 56-48.

Moving to the 3:25 mark, he again played the clock perfectly, flashing to the basket for a layup and free throw with: 04 on the shot clock. At 61-51, the Vols again had their biggest lead.

UT needed one more gem from McRae. Leading 61-55, he went on the drive and flipped a pass to Kenny Hall for a dunk with only 6 seconds to spare on the shot clock.

From there, the Vols resorted to 11-of-13 free-throw shooting to close it out.

For a team hard-pressed to find baskets here lately, McRae, a sophomore recruited by former coach Bruce Pearl for his offensive potential, can be a godsend.

"It does a lot,'' said point guard Trae Golden, "not only for us but for Jordan, just because he might have a game where he plays 10 minutes and doesn't score.

"It was great for him to hit a lot of shots and be a big factor. If he can continue to do that, we'll have a lot of options coming off the bench. Him and Josh (Richardson) give us such night and day things it balances itself out.''

McRae might be the offensive yin to Richardson's defensive yang, but he knows he won't see the court if he doesn't defend, too.

That's Martin's baseline, no exceptions. That's why McRae played only 6 minutes in Lexington and why Woolridge, who scored 17 points against the Wildcats, played only 3 against Georgia.

"I definitely feel like I'm making a lot of progress,'' McRae said with a smile. "This time last year I'd have been on the end of Coach Martin's bench.''

So now it's South Carolina's turn to scout the Vols. You can bet they'll spend more time on McRae than they would have a week ago.

And it's up to McRae to justify their time and effort.

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 » 11

blewissmith writes:

The future is bright with McRae, Maymon, Richardson, Stokes, and whoever else decides to play defense and practice hard.

mocsandvolsfan writes:

Good read here. McRae has talent to spare and he can play defense. It took a few threes for Robinson(?) to cool early but that's a part of it. Our defense got better as the game went. I thought Georgia's inside D was tough...well lots of fouls but still tough. It was good for Stokes and Maymon.

Ironcity writes:

Mcrae and Richardson should start together. Tatum was 2 for 9 and it felt like a good game compared to the previous three. Tatum was second on the team in minutes played and the team performed significantly better when he was resting on the bench.

The only benefit of not starting Golden is it cuts back on his minutes and he is clearly not a 35 minute guy we have been forcing him to play. Our defense was decent but I saw Georgia miss more two ft shots then any team we played this year. I saw UGA had only 5 turnovers the entire game and thats really unacceptable from a team that turns it over at pace similar to us most nights.

This team works hard but sometimes I wonder if they work smart.

iowavol writes:

Good article and it makes the iron clad point of Martin's philosophy - play D or sit. Folks keep complaining about Cam Tatum playing when his offense has been so woeful. They need to re-read this article - Tatum is playing because he is one of the best defenders on this team. I for one am glad to see him keep shooting because he can be deadly from long range. Clearly his confidence has been shaken but his defense hasn't suffered. He's not a Scotty Hopson who would hang his head and shuffle back down the floor. Tatum misses and he runs to the defensive end of the floor and mans up. Keep playing hard Vols and you will be okay.

eb502us#225637 writes:

When McRae starts to become the slightest bit consistent, I'll take notice. Everyone knows he capable but as Cam Tatum has showed us throughout his career, having athletic and shooting ability doesn't mean much.

Till then I'll just watch and hope.

Ironcity writes:

in response to iowavol:

Good article and it makes the iron clad point of Martin's philosophy - play D or sit. Folks keep complaining about Cam Tatum playing when his offense has been so woeful. They need to re-read this article - Tatum is playing because he is one of the best defenders on this team. I for one am glad to see him keep shooting because he can be deadly from long range. Clearly his confidence has been shaken but his defense hasn't suffered. He's not a Scotty Hopson who would hang his head and shuffle back down the floor. Tatum misses and he runs to the defensive end of the floor and mans up. Keep playing hard Vols and you will be okay.

Iowa we must be watching a different player. I have watched Tatum countless times hang his head and get beat down the court. Tatum NEVER gets a steal, he never leads a fast break, he holds the ball for three seconds after every defensive rebound as if he just found a dollar bill. If Tatum play dee half as good as Richardson, I could understand, if Tatum shot the ball as often as Richardson, I could understand. The problem is he jacks the ball up almost more then anyone else on the team when he hits less then 30% (I am being kind). He was one of the main reasons we got spanked by Charleston, UGA and Austin Peay. I have been a fan of Tatum and applaud him for improving his defense over the years and I don't blame him for his terrible slump. I think it hurts him and the team though when the coach continues to let him damage the teams chances game in and game out. What I see is a coaches personal feelings dictating what has to be done.

VolunteerLifer writes:

I had thought McRae would see less and less playing time under this coach as time went on this season, but I am happy to be proved wrong and happy to see McRae making these contributions. Willingness to play D was his first big step, then putting time in the gym on his shot was the second step, now consistent performance in the games will hopefully be his next step.

johnlg00 writes:

Jordan has made a lot of progress in most areas since the beginning of the season. His length, quickness, and creativity have always made him something of a wild card on this team. Early on, the emphasis seemed to be on the "wild" part; however, it seems more and more as if he is becoming a trump card. I agree that he needs to keep playing this way for a few more games before we can count on this kind of performance, but I give him props for trying harder to fit in and do what the team needs for him to do rather than just trying to do his own thing, no matter how ill-advised that thing might be in a given situation. Some of that is surely coaching, but it is also the result of needed game experience as well as more focused individual work.

RunningWithTheVols writes:

I am liking what I see out of MArtin's guys: toughness. That bodes well for tournament time: SEC and maybe next year the NCAA.

BigVolFaninSC writes:

The timeliness of those shots were the difference in the game! I hope he turns the corner and makes these kinds of plays more consistently! I like Golden coming off the bench, too. I don't know if he was fired up because he didn't start or what, but he played a much better game than he has in a while. This team will live or die on what they do on the defensive end of the floor!

murrayvol writes:

McRae obviously has the talent to play defense and earn minutes. Will he keep doing it consistently? Dunno.

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