John Adams: Vols able to maintain their lead this time

John Adams
Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin yells to his players in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Vanderbilt on Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2013, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin yells to his players in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Vanderbilt on Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2013, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

NASHVILLE — Cuonzo Martin wiped the top of his head with a towel and took a swig of bottled water with 3:40 to play in the first half at Vanderbilt's Memorial Gym on Wednesday night.

The Tennessee coach appeared to be sweating out another typically tight SEC basketball game. But his actions didn't fit the score.

Thanks to a couple of Jarnell Stokes free throws, the Vols had just improved their lead to 13 points — a comfortable margin for a team that hadn't won an SEC game by more than five points.

How was Martin to know they were on their way to a 58-46 victory over the Commodores? There was too much history to the contrary.

Tennessee's last three SEC victories had come by a grand total of seven points. Its last meeting with Vanderbilt was another good reason not to trust a 13-point lead.

The Vols opened last month's game with a 12-0 run during which Vanderbilt looked as incompetent as any team in the league. The lead vanished almost as quickly as it appeared, and UT didn't clinch a 58-57 victory until a last-second Commodores shot fell slightly off target.

There was no last-second suspense this time, just a dreadful second half in which neither team distinguished itself.

The Commodores briefly gained ground in the first five minutes of the half when three consecutive UT turnovers enabled them to cut a 12-point lead to eight. But that was as close as it got, mainly because the teams seemed determined to swap one missed shot for another.

The second-half score told you all you needed to know: Tennessee 18, Vanderbilt 18. Translation: Business as usual in a league that way too frequently fails to crack the 60-point barrier.

Better for UT to forget the second half and embrace the 40-point first half when its three best players — Stokes, Jordan McRae and Trae Golden — combined for 35 points and provided a rare reminder of what its fans might have envisioned the offense could be.

One productive half from the threesome is progress, though. Maybe the Vols can build on that and the back-to-back SEC victories, which upped their record to 13-10 overall and 5-6 in the SEC.

Stokes' performance was nothing unusual. He had 17 points and 10 rebounds for his sixth consecutive double-double.

It wasn't as though he surprised the Commodores. On one early possession, they double-teamed him before he received the ball inside. Then, he drew two more defenders as he dribbled across the lane.

But there weren't enough Vanderbilt defenders to go around as UT built a 12-point lead halftime lead. And this time, the 12-point lead held up.

John Adams is a senior columnist. He may be reached at 865-342-6284 or adamsj@knoxnews.com. Follow him at http://twitter.com/johnadamskns.

© 2013 govolsxtra.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Comments » 3

tulelakevol writes:

Good to get a win. On to the kittens.

licknpromise777#651578 writes:

I guess Ive said it a thousand times that lack of offensive consistency has been this teams downfall..The fact remains that to get a win we must have no less than 3 players in double figures to even have a chance to win!! 4 would be even better..Ive noticed that Stokes;McRae;Golden and Josh have finally learned what their role is on offense..Stokes and Golden know where their limitations are..McRae has numerous ways to score and Richardson has perfected his 12 foot pull up jump shot which is a lost art that's been missing far too long..Big question now is what to do defensively against KY?? We really don't match up well against the Cats..McBee has gotten lots of minutes lately because he's been really solid on defense but KY's guards are pretty fast..Wiltjer killed us last game because we don't have anybody to defend him..Hall isn't great on defense but he will have to be in the line up to guard Wiltjer..That shrimp of a punk guard Mays iced the game with a bunch of back to back wide open 3 pointers..Harrow and Goodwin are 2 more big threats..Ky will be going to Stein in the post now and because he's a 7 footer it will only lead to foul trouble for Stokes and since he's so big Stokes will have a hard time scorin against him..Because of all the media circus of Noels injury all eyes are now on this game and the Vols need to make a statement and send the Cats home with tails between their legs..We absolutely can NOT open the game shooting bricks or shooting 30% in the first half.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to licknpromise777#651578:

I guess Ive said it a thousand times that lack of offensive consistency has been this teams downfall..The fact remains that to get a win we must have no less than 3 players in double figures to even have a chance to win!! 4 would be even better..Ive noticed that Stokes;McRae;Golden and Josh have finally learned what their role is on offense..Stokes and Golden know where their limitations are..McRae has numerous ways to score and Richardson has perfected his 12 foot pull up jump shot which is a lost art that's been missing far too long..Big question now is what to do defensively against KY?? We really don't match up well against the Cats..McBee has gotten lots of minutes lately because he's been really solid on defense but KY's guards are pretty fast..Wiltjer killed us last game because we don't have anybody to defend him..Hall isn't great on defense but he will have to be in the line up to guard Wiltjer..That shrimp of a punk guard Mays iced the game with a bunch of back to back wide open 3 pointers..Harrow and Goodwin are 2 more big threats..Ky will be going to Stein in the post now and because he's a 7 footer it will only lead to foul trouble for Stokes and since he's so big Stokes will have a hard time scorin against him..Because of all the media circus of Noels injury all eyes are now on this game and the Vols need to make a statement and send the Cats home with tails between their legs..We absolutely can NOT open the game shooting bricks or shooting 30% in the first half.

No question the Vols will have to play their best game to date to beat the Cats, even without Noel. I'm not sure Cauley-Stein is nearly as formidable inside as Noel has been. Noel, like Davis last year, has an uncanny sense of timing on blocked shots that only a handful of players have. If he tries to do the things Noel did, he will get in foul trouble himself. If Stokes is patient, he can get shots inside, though he also needs to be quick and sure passing out of any double-teams that come. I agree that UK's back-court crew will be a major headache for the Vols Whoever guards Goodwin will have to make him prove it from outside; Mays and Harrow have to be guarded close. Poythress could be UK's wild card. He has enormous talent, but he is somewhat like Terrence Jones of previous years in that he takes plays and even games off. As a Tennessee guy, though, he will no doubt be fired up against the Vols.

And BTW, what a team the Vols would have this year if Tennesseeans Poythress, Hood, and Prather were on the squad, not to mention John Jenkins and Keydren Johnson. As you go back through the years, the list just gets longer and longer. None of these guys are from the "forbidden" territory of Memphis. I hope CCM is looking all over the state for future Vols and not just in Memphis. If the Vols could get the two or three top guys out of Tennessee, that would be a GREAT start on a competitive class every year.

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