Jarnell Stokes on the Vols' win over UMass
BAYAMON, Puerto Rico — As Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin and his men's basketball staff gathered outside a construction trailer serving as a makeshift locker room Sunday, the conversation inside heated up.
His players were looking ahead to the following day. Returning to Knoxville as losers in two of three games was not an option.
"I said I didn't want to be mad on the plane tomorrow," Josh Richardson said.
Nor did anyone. As a result, Richardson said, "We definitely brought the fire in the second half."
Powered by 15 second-half points from Jarnell Stokes and a swarming defense that held high-octane Massachusetts to 10-of-37 shooting after the break, the Vols indeed brought the fire.
A rousing 83-69 victory in the consolation round of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off sent them back to the mainland smiling.
"We wore 'em down," said Stokes, who finished with a career-high 24 points and a game-high 12 rebounds.
The win came as welcomed relief for Tennessee (3-1), which was beaten up in a 17-point loss to Oklahoma State on Friday.
"I don't want bring up the last game, but I told our guys that wasn't Tennessee basketball," Martin said. "That wasn't us, but you have to deal with it and you have to live with it. They did a great job of bouncing back.
This time, when the Minutemen pushed, the Vols pushed back.
After UMass (2-2) leading scorer Jesse Morgan rattled in a 3-pointer with 9:41 left, a 52-50 UMass lead flashed on the scoreboard and UT's 38-34 halftime lead was gone.
The Vols' response was prompt and definitive. After tying the game 54-54 with 8:28 to go, the UT defense threw a tarp over the Minutemen.
Holding UMass without a point for the next 3 minutes, 56 seconds, the Vols pieced together a 14-0 run to take control. Among the highlights, a dead-eyed 3-pointer by junior Jordan McRae and back-to-back offensive rebounds and put backs by Richardson.
Coming off the loss to Oklahoma State, UT players and coaches met Saturday for film study. Martin asked the Vols, playing without starting power forward Jeronne Maymon, how they would respond to adversity.
They answered the question Sunday.
"Adversity hit and we all came together as a team and huddled up and said we've got to keep playing hard and doing what we do," Richardson said.
UMass tried to answer with some late 3-pointers, but the Vols made free throws down the stretch to hold on comfortably.
After missing four of his seven free-throw attempts in the first half, Stokes canned seven of 10 after halftime.
"That's the Tennessee team I'm accustomed to seeing," Martin said.
Easily overlooked in the win was an exhaustive 29-minute outing from UT point guard Trae Golden. The junior was in charge of handling UMass' relentless full-court defense. He did so and finished with just one turnover, six assists and 11 points.
"The thing about great point guards is you have to be able to handle the press, not give the ball up, and this is the first time in his two years where he really attacked the press and kept that ball alive," Martin said. "When he's doing that we're tough to beat."
Eleven points apiece from Richardson and Skylar McBee, along with 12 from McRae, aided the effort.
Tennessee dominated UMass on the glass. A 43-34 advantage was highlighted by 12 offensive boards. The Vols entered the game with 29 in the first three games combined.
"Both of our teams pattern themselves on working hard, but I think we out-worked them in the second half," Stokes said.
Morgan led the Minutemen with 18 points, but shot 6-for-15 from the field. Diminutive point guard Chaz Williams, a terror at 5-foot-8, finished with 16 points, eight assists and eight rebounds.
After making just 13 field goals for 45 points two days earlier against Oklahoma State, the Vols made 14 shots in the first half against UMass. The resulting 38-34 halftime lead came thanks to nine different UT players scoring.
The Vols finished 28-for-62 from the field.
While key contributions came off the bench from McRae, Quinton Chievous (four points, four rebounds), Armani Moore (11 minutes of relief for Golden) and Yemi Makanjuola (five points, four rebounds in seven minutes), D'Montre Edwards did not play.
Edwards played 17 minutes in the loss to Oklahoma State.
"It's nothing disciplinary or anything," Martin said. "He just needs to work harder."
He'll have a week to think about it. Tennessee is off until a Nov. 26 meeting with Oakland at Thompson-Boling Arena.
Brendan F. Quinn covers Tennessee men's basketball. Follow him at Twitter.com/BFQuinn