Tennessee basketball penned the first pages of the 2012-13 season Friday night.
A colorless 76-67 win over Kennesaw State at Thompson-Boling Arena stands as the opening.
For Kenny Hall, though, the victory marked the beginning of a final chapter in a story nearly derailed late last season. He was suspended for the final nine games in 2011-12. The reason remains undisclosed.
So the Tennessee senior stepped to the floor Friday to make up for lost time. He also stepped on the floor to fill a 6-foot-7, 260-pound hole named Jeronne Maymon.
Hall is not Maymon, who was named preseason first team All-SEC by the league's coaches on Friday, but he doesn't have to be.
Kenny Hall, as coach Cuonzo Martin likes to say, has to be Kenny Hall.
"I have more to prove to myself," Hall said after scoring 13 points and pulling down six rebounds against Kennesaw. "I'm not really here to please anybody else other than my teammates and my coaches."
Neither Hall nor the Vols were much pleased with last night's victory, but the season began nonetheless with a win.
In a second half in which Martin said UT's focus "went out the door," the visiting Owls trimmed a 61-34 deficit down to a reasonable margin. It could have been closer if the Owls hadn't shot 7-for-16 from the free-throw line in the half.
"We take the blame for that, it's unacceptable for it to happen," said UT junior Jordan McRae.
It was McRae, along with guard Skylar McBee, who fueled the Vols with strong perimeter shooting. They shared team-high honors with 14 points apiece and combined to make 7-of-11 3-point attempts.
Outside of McRae and McBee, the Vols avoided falling into the trap of relying on jump shots and stuck to their game plan — pounding the paint.
"We did a good job of shooting 3-pointers when we had the opportunity as opposed to just letting them fly," Martin said. "There were several times when guys on the perimeter were open, but didn't settle for the 3-point shot."
Despite shooting 70.8 percent from the field over the opening 20 minutes, the Vols held a closer-than-it-should-be 42-30 lead at half. Seven offensive rebounds for Kennesaw and seven UT turnovers were the culprit.
Martin mixed and matched lineups early, at one point playing three freshman at once. With D'Montre Edwards, Quinton Chievous and Armani Moore on the floor together, the Owls turned an early 10-4 deficit into an 11-10 lead.
Markeith Cummings, who led Kennesaw with 15.4 points per game last season, was held scoreless until the 10:58 mark of the second half.
The rout was on by then. UT led 61-38.
Delbert Love led the Owls with a game-high 16 points.
Named to the coaches' All-SEC second team alongside Trae Golden, Jarnell Stokes was steady as expected, but with a new twist.
The sophomore used some deft passing to counter double and triple teams thrown at him. He finished with five assists.
"He has that intangible," McBee said.
Stokes added 10 points, five rebounds and three blocks to his stat sheet.
He can expect to see plenty more of those double and triple teams in Maymon's absence due to a knee injury.
Which makes Hall all the more important.
A year after traveling to the Maui Invitational as a question mark, Tennessee will head to the Puerto Rico Tipoff this week as a known commodity. It's best player will remain on the mainland, though.
Martin said Hall is being asked to step in for a player in Maymon who has "an identity" and "a brand."
Asked what identity Hall has, Martin said, "He needs to find it."
"That's nothing I've really thought about," Hall responded. "I just play my role — go out there and defend, rebound, score when I get the ball inside the paint and make the right decisions."
Brendan F. Quinn covers Tennessee men's basketball. Follow him at Twitter.com/BFQuinn