“Finally got that road win, great feeling,” he said Monday at his weekly press luncheon, referencing Sunday’s 66-61 win at South Carolina. “Getting on the plane after a road win, that was always one of the things I took great pride in as a player.”
One player feeling prideful is Jarnell Stokes. Following a 20-point, 10-rebound performance against the Gamecocks, the sophomore forward was named SEC Player of the Week on Monday. Now riding a streak of five straight double-doubles, Stokes averaged 18 points, 10.5 rebounds, two assists and two steals last week as the Vols split a pair of games against Georgia and South Carolina.
Though based on two games, the award caps a string of five brilliant outings from Stokes. The performances happen to correspond with Martin’s decision to contact Gerald Boudreaux, the SEC’s coordinator of men’s basketball officials, to address fouls being called on Stokes and no-calls against defenders hounding him following UT’s loss at Ole Miss on Jan. 24.
SEC Teleconference - Cuonzo Martin - Feb 11, 2013
Stokes has dominated since. Playing 33 minutes per game, he’s averaged 17.6 points on 68.9 percent shooting (31-of-45) and grabbed 60 rebounds. Of the rebounds, 27 have been offensive. Stokes had 26 in the 10 games prior.
“Offensively, on the rebounding side, he’s rebounding balls out of his area, he’s going and getting rebounds and keeping that ball alive,” Martin said. “That’s really something he didn’t do last year and didn’t do earlier this year.”
Against South Carolina, Stokes grabbed two crucial offensive boards in the game’s final three minutes. One led to a Skylar McBee 3-pointer that stretched a 58-57 lead to 61-57. The other allowed the Vols to run an additional 24 seconds off the clock.
Up Next: Sitting at 12-10 overall and 4-6 in the SEC, the Vols will head to Nashville on Wednesday (TV: 8 p.m., WVLT) for a date with Vanderbilt (9-13, 3-7). Tennessee topped the Commodores 58-57 on Jan. 29 at Thompson-Boling Arena.
The narrow win came after a frantic final sequence that saw Vandy get two late shot attempts near the rim that nearly fell.
With only three games separating the meetings, UT has an advantage of having faced coach Kevin Stallings’ Princeton-style offense recently.
“I think it helps, our guys will be familiar with it,” Martin said. “But with that being said, when you’re talking about a rival opponent, everything goes out the door and you’re competing, playing a basketball game. It should be a tough game, a physical game.”
McRae’s Misfortune: While Stokes has surged, junior guard Jordan McRae has seen his production plummet.
Since raising his season scoring average from 10.3 to 14.7 points per game over a torrid seven-game stretch in January, McRae is 9-for-38 from the field (23.7 percent), 1-for-14 on 3-point attempts (7.1 percent) and averaging 9.3 points per game.
Changing the Turnover Tide: During Monday morning’s SEC teleconference, Martin mentioned that a difference seen in Sunday’s win over South Carolina was the Vols not “finding a way to lose.”
Asked about the comment during his luncheon, Martin returned to UT’s turnover tendencies.
“You’ve got to take care of the basketball,” he said. “The biggest Achilles’ heel for us has been taking care of the basketball. In some ways it’s free throws, but we’ve been in games where the opposing team has missed big free throws. You have to be able to take care of that basketball, give yourself a chance to win games.”
The Vols committed 11 second-half turnovers against the Gamecocks, but only three came in the game’s final nine minutes.
Brendan F. Quinn covers Tennessee men’s basketball. Follow him at Twitter.com/BFQuinn