Mike Strange: Jordan McRae was the man

Mike Strange
Tennessee's Jordan McRae celebrates after scoring against LSU at Thompson-Boling Arena on Tuesday, February 19, 2013. Tennessee wins against LSU, 82-72.

(Saul Young/News Sentinel)

Photo by Saul Young, 2013 Knoxville News Sentinel

Tennessee's Jordan McRae celebrates after scoring against LSU at Thompson-Boling Arena on Tuesday, February 19, 2013. Tennessee wins against LSU, 82-72. (Saul Young/News Sentinel)

Cuonzo Martin on his second season as UT's head coach

He missed his first shot Tuesday night. Made one, then missed another.

So five minutes into the game, the Tigers of LSU had no idea what was about to hit them.

On the plane ride home LSU should have had the sense it did enough to come into Thompson-Boling Arena and steal a win from Tennessee.

Johnny O’Bryant was a beast. The Tigers played hard, gave no quarter. They shot well enough and won the rebound battle.

But there was just nothing that could be done about Jordan McRae.

“He was the man tonight,’’ said LSU guard Anthony Hickey. “He packed his team (on his back).

“I told him, ‘You led your team.’ That was a good thing.’’

McRae was the man, all right. And if he wasn’t, Tennessee wouldn’t have been notching an 82-72 win, its fourth straight.

If McRae wasn’t the man, a crowd announced at 15,086 wouldn’t have left celebrating another fun night to follow a fun Saturday when the Vols embarrassed Kentucky.

McRae was nothing short of amazing. He scored a career-high 34 points, the most by a Vol since Chris Lofton dropped 35 on Texas in December 2006.

He hit all six of his 3-point shots, matching a school record for most makes without a miss set by JaJuan Smith in 2008.

“He was just hot,’’ said Hickey. “You can’t do nothing about that. He lit it up.’’

McRae lit it up in the first half. Then he turned up the wattage in the second.

The Vols, leading 40-30 at the half, couldn’t afford to blink. LSU can score. This wasn’t going to be a 62-60 game.

Tennessee managed 11 field goals in the second half. McRae accounted for seven of them.

He missed only two shots in the second half. He most emphatically did not miss when, leading 54-47, Trae Golden found him slashing down the left side on a fast break. McRae tomahawked an ESPN Top Plays-worthy dunk to ignite the crowd and keep the Tigers at arm’s length for another possession.

When all was said and done, he was 13-of-18 from the field.

So he sat in the interview room and held a box score in his hand. Someone asked how it looked.

“I had three turnovers still,’’ he said, then grinned. “Other than that, it looks pretty good.’’

Did he see a career game coming on when he laced up his sneakers? No, not really. But he did feel pretty good in warm-ups. It might, he thought, turn out to be a decent night.

“Just like you guys,’’ he said to the microphone and notepad holders. “You have a good day at home, work’s gonna be fun.’’

His fun, LSU’s misery. At 6-foot-5 with a considerable wingspan, McRae was going to pose a tough matchup to the Tigers, who start two short guards. But this was ridiculous.

“We’d do something,’’ said Hickey, “and it’d be another three.’’

But there were more than threes. Asked his favorite basket, McRae skipped over the treys and the dunk.

“I’d say the tip-in I got late over Johnny O’Bryant,’’ he said. “I think that was a big play for us.’’

There was another sequence involving a McRae rebound and O’Bryant that was just as big, maybe bigger.

With 3:21 left, O’Bryant missed in close, McRae beat him to the rebound and O’Bryant was whistled for his fifth foul. He and his 24 points went to the bench.

“He bumped me a little bit,’’ said McRae, “but I sold it a lot.’’

Sold it and walked to the other end of the floor and hit his only two free-throw attempts of the night for a 75-65 lead.

That was it. He was done at 34. His appreciative teammates got the Vols to the final horn.

But the season’s final horn hasn’t come yet. Possibilities are becoming intriguing.

“We’ve got to finish the job,’’ McRae said. “We’ve still got a lot of basketball to play.’’

Anyone will be hard pressed to play it better than McRae did Tuesday night. He was the man.

Mike Strange may be reached at strangem@knoxnews.com. Follow him on Twitter at strangemike44 and at http://blogs.knoxnews.com/strange.

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Comments » 29

VFL-az writes:

Nice article Mike!

I like reading articles which positively reflect UT wins. Too bad there are very few of them written in Knoxville.

FIRE JOHN ADAMS!!

Olddogsrule writes:

It's a fine thing to see Jordan play like that. It's midnight and I'm still pumped. Shot after shot after shot! Stokes with another double double, Golden doing it ... dang ... the WHOLE TEAM doing it! :) ... It's fun to watch and has to be even more fun for our Vols. Put a frog stompin' on Kentucky and now this! Keep it going guys just as long as you can. Congratulations again to Jordan for a career game!

Next!

miatatom writes:

"With 3:21 left, O’Bryant missed in close, McRae beat him to the rebound and O’Bryant was whistled for his fifth foul."

I thought that was his best play of the game. McRae was a superstar tonight!

Another solid victory for our team. GO VOLS!!!

kyvol98 writes:

LSU is a quality team, just not very deep. They do not quit which is why I am glad to see we kept on the gas. Jordan is becoming the player I always hoped and thought he could be. Also, went back to work Tuesday (Mon holiday) and nobody wanted to talk basketball. The silence in Lexington has been deafening!

jmaples54 writes:

in response to VFL-az:

Nice article Mike!

I like reading articles which positively reflect UT wins. Too bad there are very few of them written in Knoxville.

FIRE JOHN ADAMS!!

many of uslike reading positive articles AND POSTS. you ruin the attitude you supposedly favor. so shut up.

DC82_Vol writes:

For once, this was a game I didn't think we were going to lose in the last 5 minutes. Great game guys. Go Vols.

licknpromise777#651578 writes:

Probably said it 100 times..Nothing fixes whats wrong like having our guards shoot 50 percent..Don't see many guards that can shut McRae down especially since the ball movement has been so good..Got the GA game circled..Need to go down there and lay the wood to the pups 2 man show of Pope and Gaines

dirislr#209355 writes:

in response to VFL-az:

Nice article Mike!

I like reading articles which positively reflect UT wins. Too bad there are very few of them written in Knoxville.

FIRE JOHN ADAMS!!

If you don't like John Adams don't read his articles. People like you make me sick.

switcher76 writes:

That's how those boys need to play ball!!! Great job Jordan!!!!!!!!!!! GBO!!!

underthehill writes:

in response to dirislr#209355:

If you don't like John Adams don't read his articles. People like you make me sick.

Me too..this is a free site..I appreciate the folks that fund it..these guys are like the food stamp folks that complain cause they can't buy beer,cigs, & lottery tickets with em..

johnlg00 writes:

in response to miatatom:

"With 3:21 left, O’Bryant missed in close, McRae beat him to the rebound and O’Bryant was whistled for his fifth foul."

I thought that was his best play of the game. McRae was a superstar tonight!

Another solid victory for our team. GO VOLS!!!

No question that was a huge play. Nothing else the Vols were doing could stop that guy. If he hadn't been in foul trouble a good part of the second half, the Vols might have been in trouble. Strange and McRae seem to imply that McRae sorta got away with one on that play. Maybe so, but O'Bryant was warding off defenders with his off hand all night, precisely the kind of thing Jarnell was getting called for earlier in the season that probably accounted for half of his fouls and cost him no telling how much playing time. I agreed with another poster on another thread that the officiating last night was terrible, both ways. I'm just glad the Vols got a couple to go their way when they needed them.

johnlg00 writes:

As for Jordan, sometimes all you can do is just say "WOW!" You can tell that he has really smoothed out his game lately. For most of his career, he seemed to think his best move was just to launch himself toward the basket, no matter how much traffic he had to go through and without any consideration for time and score. Lately, though, he has both been much better at picking his spots on his drives and at pulling up for the mid-range jumper. He made a minor adjustment in his shooting stroke to get his right elbow a bit more under the ball rather than sticking out to the side, but mostly it is just that he seems much more assured when he puts it up. The way he is going now if he had another 20 lbs or so of muscle and still had his quickness and agility, he would be darned near illegal!

ClearVol writes:

Slightly off subject but does anyone have any idea why the TN/KY replay is virtually non existant? Any ideas?

mocsandvolsfan writes:

in response to ClearVol:

Slightly off subject but does anyone have any idea why the TN/KY replay is virtually non existant? Any ideas?

I suspect tech problems as I couldn't get the game online at utsports. It was on CBS which is where I watched of course but I wanted to hear half time and post game and could not. They certainly still played the irritating commercial you get every time you load the game.

mocsandvolsfan writes:

in response to johnlg00:

As for Jordan, sometimes all you can do is just say "WOW!" You can tell that he has really smoothed out his game lately. For most of his career, he seemed to think his best move was just to launch himself toward the basket, no matter how much traffic he had to go through and without any consideration for time and score. Lately, though, he has both been much better at picking his spots on his drives and at pulling up for the mid-range jumper. He made a minor adjustment in his shooting stroke to get his right elbow a bit more under the ball rather than sticking out to the side, but mostly it is just that he seems much more assured when he puts it up. The way he is going now if he had another 20 lbs or so of muscle and still had his quickness and agility, he would be darned near illegal!

Jordan and Golden both have improved at slashing to the basket. They are moving the defense a lot better instead of plowing through. I'm thinking those little floaters Richardson showed them how to do has helped.hehe

VolBall18 writes:

Games like the last two are perfect examples of how a team can play like a top team. Settle the mistakes down and pass the ball. McRae is good enough to average 20 pts a game. Once he flips the switch it's hard to stop him. If he and Golden could keep doing as they've done against KenSucky and LSU, while having Stokes doing what he does, UT could be a very scary team. But consistency is not a word I would label with those two just yet. Time will tell.

tennrich1 writes:

As a brilliant mind on here stated a couple of weeks ago...."the team that's able to score generally wins the game"....Seriously, that's what we have been doing...shooting the ball with great effort and being aggressive with the ball...I LOVE to watch of push the ball up court....we just produce at a much higher level when we do that...and our Free Throw percentage seems to be going up as well...

jt45 writes:

in response to ClearVol:

Slightly off subject but does anyone have any idea why the TN/KY replay is virtually non existant? Any ideas?

Because it was UT that put the beatdown on them. If it had been Duke or any other ESPN favorite they would still have it posted front page. The major networks dont like it when their cash cow Cinderella teams lose. Im not sure why but ESPN always puts UT scores at the bottom of their scoreboard.

John_10065 writes:

in response to ClearVol:

Slightly off subject but does anyone have any idea why the TN/KY replay is virtually non existant? Any ideas?

I suspect it's for the same reason that I can't find the clip of the UK faithful throwing oranges and coins at UT and setting Bernard's hair on fire with a cigarette.

I know it's out there, I remember seeing the tape right after it happened out of Nashville's Channel 5 News!

But I am not one to start a conspiracy theory...nope...not me.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to mocsandvolsfan:

Jordan and Golden both have improved at slashing to the basket. They are moving the defense a lot better instead of plowing through. I'm thinking those little floaters Richardson showed them how to do has helped.hehe

Might be something to that, though both of them have done that on occasion all season. Josh's arms are so long and he has so much motion on his shot, I'm STILL not expecting it to go in as much as it does. I'm coming around though....

johnlg00 writes:

in response to VolBall18:

Games like the last two are perfect examples of how a team can play like a top team. Settle the mistakes down and pass the ball. McRae is good enough to average 20 pts a game. Once he flips the switch it's hard to stop him. If he and Golden could keep doing as they've done against KenSucky and LSU, while having Stokes doing what he does, UT could be a very scary team. But consistency is not a word I would label with those two just yet. Time will tell.

Well, those guys have been mostly playing like this for a good two or three weeks now, so the question of consistency is steadily receding in my mind. They might not win all the rest of them, but at this point I would be surprised any time they DIDN'T play well. Of course, all this could be upset by early foul trouble, an injury, or just an off night, but it is clear that they have all learned what they have to do to give the team a chance to win.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to jt45:

Because it was UT that put the beatdown on them. If it had been Duke or any other ESPN favorite they would still have it posted front page. The major networks dont like it when their cash cow Cinderella teams lose. Im not sure why but ESPN always puts UT scores at the bottom of their scoreboard.

This game was on CBS, not ESPN. And maybe you were joking, but ESPN always puts EVERYBODY'S scores at the bottom of the screen(;-P).

golfman1975 writes:

Great 2 games! Beat the Kittens and then Yellow Shoe. McCray the becoming a beast in the East.

jt45 writes:

in response to johnlg00:

This game was on CBS, not ESPN. And maybe you were joking, but ESPN always puts EVERYBODY'S scores at the bottom of the screen(;-P).

I know it was CBS, I was joking (sort of)but I didnt say anything about a screen, I was referring to ESPNs online college BB scoreboard page. In fact I dont think ive ever seen much from ESPN or any major network as far as UT is concerned. Anyone who watches much BB knows how much coverage is given to the Cats and the Blue devils. For them its all about money and ratings.

About the only thing Ive seen since the game are some highlights on UT sports.com and a recap on CBS.com but you have to do some digging to get it.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to jt45:

I know it was CBS, I was joking (sort of)but I didnt say anything about a screen, I was referring to ESPNs online college BB scoreboard page. In fact I dont think ive ever seen much from ESPN or any major network as far as UT is concerned. Anyone who watches much BB knows how much coverage is given to the Cats and the Blue devils. For them its all about money and ratings.

About the only thing Ive seen since the game are some highlights on UT sports.com and a recap on CBS.com but you have to do some digging to get it.

Oh yeah, no doubt the Vols are flying considerably under the national radar right now, and probably rightly so. They did get some love after the UK game, even though most of the coverage was about how the Cats flopped and how Calapari threw his players under the bus. The only solution to this situation is for the Vols to keep winning to the point where they CAN'T be ignored. A nice win over UF would be a big help there!

jt45 writes:

in response to johnlg00:

Oh yeah, no doubt the Vols are flying considerably under the national radar right now, and probably rightly so. They did get some love after the UK game, even though most of the coverage was about how the Cats flopped and how Calapari threw his players under the bus. The only solution to this situation is for the Vols to keep winning to the point where they CAN'T be ignored. A nice win over UF would be a big help there!

I agree, hopefully they get to that level where they will always be in the big picture, next year could be that year. Right now its just a one game at a time sort of hope, but each win adds a little more to it.

wilk58 writes:

in response to jt45:

Because it was UT that put the beatdown on them. If it had been Duke or any other ESPN favorite they would still have it posted front page. The major networks dont like it when their cash cow Cinderella teams lose. Im not sure why but ESPN always puts UT scores at the bottom of their scoreboard.

Are you serious? ESPN scrolls all scores. Vols win not enough exposure. Lose too much. Is that the way you look at it? Go Vols.

jt45 writes:

in response to wilk58:

Are you serious? ESPN scrolls all scores. Vols win not enough exposure. Lose too much. Is that the way you look at it? Go Vols.

Apparently you missed my point or misunderstood. Im absolutely sure I dont understand what you just typed.

Basketvol writes:

A performance that will be remembered on The Hill for a long time. It was fun to watch. Go Vols!

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