UT, picked to finish 11th in the league at SEC Basketball Media Day, is tied for eighth place in the SEC race with LSU after beating Georgia 73-62 Saturday night.
Tennessee improved to 11-12 overall and 3-5 in the league with a home game against cellar dweller South Carolina (9-13, 1-7) coming up on Wednesday (TV: MyVLT, 8 p.m.).
"For us, it's taking one game at a time; I tell the guys, 'It's never too late,' '' said Martin, who in his first season at the helm and still harbors hope of building on the Vols' school-record six consecutive NCAA appearances.
"If we take care of the basketball, we've got a chance to be successful, because we have the necessary pieces.''
Martin has shown he's not shy about shuffling those pieces, either, changing the starting lineup for the third time this season prior to Saturday's win over Georgia.
McBee scored 10 points and turned the ball over just once, while Golden came off the bench to score a team-high 16 points in his 28 minutes, dishing out five assists while committing three turnovers.
Tennessee's 10 turnovers against Georgia represented its fewest in SEC action. They also were half as many turnovers as the Vols committed in a 57-53 overtime loss in Athens on Jan. 18.
Golden said he feels good about the second half of the season, whether he returns to the starting lineup, or not.
"We have a lot of games under our belt, and I think going on the road, we've learned a lot of lessons, losing by 20 back-to-back times,'' Golden said, referring to setbacks of 69-44 at No. 1 Kentucky last Tuesday and 65-47 at Vanderbilt on Jan. 24.
"I think we're gonna be fine. We have a run in us, and we'll continue to work hard.''
UT junior Jeronne Maymon, who had 15 points and eight rebounds against the Bulldogs, said the team is ready to play well and finish strong.
"We're just trying to get these wins and see where we are come SEC tournament time,'' said Maymon, who joins senior Cam Tatum as the only player to start every game this season.
"I think we trust each other a little more on the defensive end than at the start of the year,'' Maymon said. "When one guy gets beat, he knows someone will be there to challenge the shot or take the charge.''
The Decision: Golden said Martin told him on Friday that he wouldn't be starting.
"I'd be lying if I said I was cool with it or happy — I was down, but I didn't hang my head,'' said Golden, who started the first 22 games this season. "I just wanted to work harder and get minutes back tonight. I'll continue to come off the bench if that's what Coach Martin wants me to do. Whatever helps the team.
"Personally, I didn't know it was going to happen. I don't think anybody ever knows what Coach Martin is gonna do except Coach Martin.''
Golden said that, looking back, he could see what probably led to his benching.
"I didn't have one of my best practices on Thursday; I could have played much better in practice.''
Martin said he was pleased with how Golden responded to the situation.
"I thought Trae did his best job of being vocal tonight,'' Martin said. "More than anything, it's his defensive fire and intensity. I don't care how much he shoots or scores, for him it's defensive intensity.''
More Changes?: Although Martin said at the beginning of the season that he's not a proponent of multiple lineup changes or token benching to send a message, he admits he's somewhat surprised UT has only used four different lineups at this juncture of the season.
"I would have thought it probably would have been more,''said Martin, asked if he would have predicted three lineup changes after the opener. "When you have a new team, a new coach, and you didn't come in with any star power, with Tobias (Harris) or Scotty (Hopson).
"You have five new guys trying to find their way and learn the system and learn their new coach.''
Martin suggested Tatum figures to stay in the starting lineup, but not necessarily on the strength of his 2-of-9 shooting performance against Georgia.
"Cam Tatum struggled with his shot, but if he plays hard and approaches the game in the right way, and continues to work on his game, I have no problem with that,'' Martin said. "In Trae's case, it's approaching the game from a high level from a work ethic standpoint, more than anything.''
Mike Griffith covers Tennessee men's basketball. Follow him at http://twitter.com/MikeGriffith32