The fourth victory of Tennessee’s season-long win streak went just like Vols coach Cuonzo Martin drew it up in practice.
Get the ball inside, draw the predictable double team in the post, pitch the ball back out, reverse it around the perimeter, and shoot the open 3-pointer.
Tennessee scored a 76-63 victory over Chattanooga before an announced crowd of 15,239 on Monday night at Thompson-Boling Arena by executing Martin’s plan to a tee.
It was enough to put a smile on the face of UT athletic director Dave Hart, who was in attendance as the Vols competed against the program headed up by his son, Chattanooga athletic director Rick Hart.
The Vols (7-6) made 13 of 39 attempts from beyond the 3-point arc against Chattanooga (6-9) in the win, taking the second-most 3-point attempts in school history behind the 50 treys they attempted in a 93-59 win over North Carolina A&T on Nov. 27, 2007.
But unlike those Chris Lofton days, when the SEC’s all-time 3-point marksman would shoot (and often make) whether defended well or not, these current Vols are finding the open shot.
“I’ve got to go back and watch film tonight, but of the 39 (attempts), 35 of them were good shots,” Martin said. “The plan was to take that shot. Sometimes, it doesn’t fall, but you have to be aggressive and take it.”
UT sophomore point guard Trae Golden knocked down four of nine 3-point attempts, tying his career high with 29 points just three days after undergoing nasal fracture surgery.
Skylar McBee was on the mark as well, draining 5 of 11 from beyond the arc en route to scoring a career-high 16 points.
“I knew Skylar would do that to me; I understand that,” Chattanooga coach John Shulman said. “He broke my heart because he was supposed to come to Chattanooga in the first place. ... We were up six or seven in the first half and he kind of took over. Good for Skylar.”
The Vols ran out to a 44-32 half-time lead on the strength of a furious scoring run over the final 6 ½ minutes before intermission.
The Mocs had just finished a 14-0 outburst to take their largest lead of the game, 23-16 at the 6:41 mark, when UT heated up.
The Vols scored on their next seven possessions and McBee drained four 3-pointers during a 22-4 run that made it 38-27 with 1:49 left in the half and put UT in command.
“Them doubling down the post factored into my shots,” McBee said. “The shot will be open if you pass it out and reverse the ball. It is something we worked on in practice.”
Chattanooga, led by Ricky Taylor’s 17 points and Omar Wattad’s 16-point effort, went on a 9-0 run in the second half to draw back to five, 46-41, with 17:42 remaining.
But the Vols, on the strength of a 45-37 rebounding advantage and 26-16 edge in points in the paint, kept the Mocs at bay, and the margin didn’t get closer the rest of the night.
UT senior Cameron Tatum, who drew praise from Martin despite a 3-for-16 shooting night, said it was all about unselfish play.
“This game was about paying attention to detail during the scouting report, and guys playing for each other,” said Tatum, who had eight rebounds and a team-high and career-high six assists. “It’s like Coach Martin says, when you set a screen for a teammate, that’s your brother out there, and you want to get him an open shot.”
Despite the plan to shoot the 3-pointer, the Vols still managed to outscore the Mocs in the paint, 26-16, while holding a 45-37 edge on the boards.
“It was a hard-fought win for the guys,” Martin said, “but more importantly, we’re getting better.”
The suddenly feel-good Vols travel to play rival Memphis (8-5) on Wednesday (TV: 8 p.m., FSTN) at raucous FedExForum.
The Tigers defeated Tennessee 99-97 in double overtime on Nov. 22 in the EA Sports Maui Invitational.
“As a coach you prepare the same way, but you understand what’s at stake,” Martin said of the rivalry game. “The players know, and the fans know what’s at stake. ... We’ll be ready.”
Mike Griffith covers Tennessee men’s basketball. Follow him at http://twitter.com/MikeGriffith32