Defense still rules Vols' roost

Vols held potent Gators to 16 under average

Florida center Patric Young (4) goes up for a basket as Tennessee guard Trae Golden (11) and forward Jarnell Stokes (5) pressure him during the second half at Thompson-Boling Arena Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013. Tennessee won 64-58 over Florida. (ADAM BRIMER/NEWS SENTINEL)

Photo by Adam Brimer

Florida center Patric Young (4) goes up for a basket as Tennessee guard Trae Golden (11) and forward Jarnell Stokes (5) pressure him during the second half at Thompson-Boling Arena Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013. Tennessee won 64-58 over Florida. (ADAM BRIMER/NEWS SENTINEL)

As a ball hurled from Jordan McRae’s right hand disappeared high into the Thompson-Boling Arena rafters, the Florida Gators languished over to the bench, ready to disappear from the floor.

Bearing a befuddled mien, they lined up, shook hands with Tennessee’s still-celebrating players and exited stage left.

The Gators came to Knoxville looking for a test on Tuesday night. They left with a lesson that reminded everyone what UT basketball is still about.

Defense.

Through the Vols’ ballyhooed six-game winning streak, a reemergence of offensive firepower has drawn the praise. In order to knock off fifth-ranked Florida, though, Tennessee had to go back to the roots planted by coach Cuonzo Martin.

This is a team built on defense. That’s why scoring 64 points was enough to beat high-octane Florida by six, 64-58.

Tie off, jacket ditched, Florida coach Billy Donovan said afterward, “Rebounding and our inability to make shots, especially in the second half, I thought was the difference.”

The Gators scored a season-low 26 second-half points.

They entered the night averaging 74.0 points per game, 49.9 percent shooting and a plus-20.6 scoring margin against SEC competition. They scored 58, shot 42.1 percent and lost by six at Tennessee (17-10, 9-6 SEC).

That prolific transition offense and dead-eye 3-point shooting? Florida scored five fastbreak points and made just one second-half 3-pointer.

Remember what Martin said during UT’s preseason media day?

“Do what you do on the floor — but we all have to defend at a high level.”

The Vols were next level against Florida.

Through this ongoing six-game winning streak, McRae, Jarnell Stokes and Trae Golden each have led Tennessee in scoring twice. The one constant all along has been defense — Martin’s bedrock. Opponents have been held to 63.3 points per game through the streak. Texas A&M is the only team to score more than 72. It only took the Aggies four overtimes to reach their 85 points.

Tuesday was a defining defensive performance.

During a stout four-minute defensive stretch, the Vols held Florida scoreless from the 17:30 mark of the second half until there was 13:31 remaining. UT used that time to turn a 37-37 tie into a 43-37 advantage.

The Vols held the lead for the remainder of the evening.

Prior to Tuesday night, the Gators made at least five 3-pointers in each of their 26 games. They made 10 or more 10 times.

They were 4-for-17 against the Vols.

The numbers get worse.

Florida’s 11 assists were tied for the Gators’ third fewest of the year. It’s 26 second-half points also were tied for its third lowest.

Individually, only power forward Patric Young found traction against the UT defense. With a build sculpted by Michelangelo, the 6-foot-9, 249-pound statue scored 15 points on 6-of-10 shooting. Reserve forward Casey Prather found his way to 10 points, but left the game late with a nasty gash on his forehead after an on-the-floor scrum.

Florida’s Mike Rosario finished with a team-high 16 points, but took 15 shots to do so. He was bated into numerous ill-advised shots.

Kenny Boynton, Erik Murphy and Scottie Wilbekin were collectively held 17.5 points under their season scoring average. Boynton’s travails were glaring.

Defended by UT point guard Trae Golden, he scored two points on 1-for-7 shooting. He had made at least one 3-pointer in 24 games this season. He was 0-for-4 against Tennessee

Swarming the perimeter and getting back in transition, the Vols’ new-look four-guard rotation was able to stymie Florida.

“It definitely helped us,” McRae said. “We were switching a lot of stuff.”

And don’t expect that to change. Next up is Georgia, the last team to beat UT, on Saturday (TV: WVLT, 1:30 p.m.). Behind 24 points from Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, the Bulldogs fought past the Vols 68-62 on Feb. 6.

All that offense is great.

Defense is better.

Brendan F. Quinn covers Tennessee men’s basketball. Follow him at Twitter.com/BFQuinn.

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Comments » 18

sameolvolalum writes:

These emotional roller coaster wins sure do beat close losses. These guys are figuring out how to score in the clutch.....how to win. Great job CJM.

sameolvolalum writes:

in response to sameolvolalum:

These emotional roller coaster wins sure do beat close losses. These guys are figuring out how to score in the clutch.....how to win. Great job CJM.

Oops! I meant CCM. Shut up. I'm old.

johnlg00 writes:

Another fine article by BQ. He not only provided great stats, he put them into perspective. I didn't even find any malaprops in this one(;-P)! Love the fact that the Vols are not only finding their offense, their defense is HELPING their offense. Earlier in the season, it almost looked like their effort on defense was making them too tired to play good offense. That no longer seems to be the case. I would like to see them run even more than they do, but their improved offensive efficiency without sacrificing defense is a welcome change.

atnvol#283282 writes:

Yeah, its seems as if Quinn has finally calmed down and quit trying to be a smart A, yankee A hole. Maybe he is finding out that this is a pretty decent place to live.I know he has to find the winters much more pleasant than in philly.

10seVol85_Part_Deux writes:

in response to johnlg00:

Another fine article by BQ. He not only provided great stats, he put them into perspective. I didn't even find any malaprops in this one(;-P)! Love the fact that the Vols are not only finding their offense, their defense is HELPING their offense. Earlier in the season, it almost looked like their effort on defense was making them too tired to play good offense. That no longer seems to be the case. I would like to see them run even more than they do, but their improved offensive efficiency without sacrificing defense is a welcome change.

The defense has always been there. I'm convinced that the offense struggled because of the loss of Maymon and injuries that Golden and McBee both had to deal with to their shooting arms (one wrist, one shoulder, I believe). Now that Stokes has adjusted to life without Maymon, Golden and McBee have both returned to form (knock on wood) and McRae has started to score the way he proved he could in the Rocky Top League a couple of years ago (when he averaged more about 45 points/game), the offense has become (maybe) as good as the defense. This is not the same team we were watching 5-6 weeks ago.

mocsandvolsfan writes:

in response to 10seVol85_Part_Deux:

The defense has always been there. I'm convinced that the offense struggled because of the loss of Maymon and injuries that Golden and McBee both had to deal with to their shooting arms (one wrist, one shoulder, I believe). Now that Stokes has adjusted to life without Maymon, Golden and McBee have both returned to form (knock on wood) and McRae has started to score the way he proved he could in the Rocky Top League a couple of years ago (when he averaged more about 45 points/game), the offense has become (maybe) as good as the defense. This is not the same team we were watching 5-6 weeks ago.

Right on. johnlgOO too.

mocsandvolsfan writes:

in response to atnvol#283282:

Yeah, its seems as if Quinn has finally calmed down and quit trying to be a smart A, yankee A hole. Maybe he is finding out that this is a pretty decent place to live.I know he has to find the winters much more pleasant than in philly.

there are "A holes" in all parts of the land.
NESW...everwhar! I confess at times though I've been raised in the deep south that I am at times unlikable. yeh unlikable is a better word than what you said.

Anyhow Go UT beat Georgia...I wonder if a "yankee" can report fairly on that match up.hehe

atnvol#283282 writes:

I noticed that YOU used the term A hole when quoting that "there are 'A holes' in all parts of the land". And I do suppose Quinn can give us a "fair" report on the GA match....he has been getting better with time....maybe he has found a woman;).

SewaneeVolFan writes:

Don't want to get into how geographic location contributes to how well someone writes, but I will, anyway. A so-called Southern writer was asked about being categorized that way, and he answered with a joke about a suspicious husband finding a naked guy hiding in his closet and shouting, "what're you doing in there?" To which the guy replied, "we all have to be someplace."

I liked this article, too, wherever the writer is from. As a writing teacher, I've come across lousy writers just about all over. Despite a certain Southern boastfulness, to me no place has a monopoly on good ones.

I HAVE taught Southern Lit. courses, but never seen a Northern Lit. course offered. However, that's for the same reason we don't see Men's Literature Courses or Caucasian Lit. courses....

I must admit, however, I wondered how Tim Allen in Home Improvement would have handled Quinn's line that the Gators went through the handshake line, "Bearing a befuddled mien," hee hee.

Most relevant here, however, is that this is a good article showing well what UT accomplished and how they accomplished it in a great win the other day.

Vol_In_Ohio writes:

in response to 10seVol85_Part_Deux:

The defense has always been there. I'm convinced that the offense struggled because of the loss of Maymon and injuries that Golden and McBee both had to deal with to their shooting arms (one wrist, one shoulder, I believe). Now that Stokes has adjusted to life without Maymon, Golden and McBee have both returned to form (knock on wood) and McRae has started to score the way he proved he could in the Rocky Top League a couple of years ago (when he averaged more about 45 points/game), the offense has become (maybe) as good as the defense. This is not the same team we were watching 5-6 weeks ago.

We have to be honest with ourselves too though - Florida missed several open shots that might have changed how the end of the game played out. We were able to run out the shot clock several times because they didn't score on the other end and narrow the gap.

Which transitions to another point - I think the biggest factor is CCM is letting them run, and they really play well in the open court. When we slowed things down the last five minutes, didn't the offense look eerily like they did in the first 20 games? That is a factor just as much as the injuries in my opinion.

Even the best teams have a hard time putting together 6 in a row - GBO!!!

johnlg00 writes:

in response to 10seVol85_Part_Deux:

The defense has always been there. I'm convinced that the offense struggled because of the loss of Maymon and injuries that Golden and McBee both had to deal with to their shooting arms (one wrist, one shoulder, I believe). Now that Stokes has adjusted to life without Maymon, Golden and McBee have both returned to form (knock on wood) and McRae has started to score the way he proved he could in the Rocky Top League a couple of years ago (when he averaged more about 45 points/game), the offense has become (maybe) as good as the defense. This is not the same team we were watching 5-6 weeks ago.

Good post. I think you put your finger on it. At the very least, the defense doesn't seem to be HURTING the offense. I agree with the general idea that offense comes and goes but good defense is, or SHOULD be, there every night. The best thing about the Vols these days is that they seem to be attacking on both offense and defense. I think that was the main attitude Martin was trying to teach the team. He has just seemed to come to a better realization that attacking defense doesn't have to be EXCLUSIVELY half-court man-to-man. I would like to see them trap more out of the zone when they play it and blitz the point on pick-and-rolls in the man-to-man. Both tactics should be very effective with all the long-armed guys they have. The Vols have a number of quick, agile players; now they need to use those attributes to their best effect.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to Vol_In_Ohio:

We have to be honest with ourselves too though - Florida missed several open shots that might have changed how the end of the game played out. We were able to run out the shot clock several times because they didn't score on the other end and narrow the gap.

Which transitions to another point - I think the biggest factor is CCM is letting them run, and they really play well in the open court. When we slowed things down the last five minutes, didn't the offense look eerily like they did in the first 20 games? That is a factor just as much as the injuries in my opinion.

Even the best teams have a hard time putting together 6 in a row - GBO!!!

You have some good points. I would say only that the Vols missed on a LOT of good looks in the early going and both teams looked a little fatigued in the late going that caused them to miss some shots they might have otherwise made. Thus it agains comes back to the Vols superior depth and conditioning, mainly in the sense that the Gators weren't able to GET better shots in the late going and often had to resort to outside shots that they couldn't get their legs into.

brod writes:

defense was horrible against uga last time. hope the vols have their legs back.

mocsandvolsfan writes:

in response to atnvol#283282:

I noticed that YOU used the term A hole when quoting that "there are 'A holes' in all parts of the land". And I do suppose Quinn can give us a "fair" report on the GA match....he has been getting better with time....maybe he has found a woman;).

Hehe... I wasn't judging you just didn't want to call myself one. My point really was the sectional hate thing. It shows our age maybe to call someone a "yankee" unless they're from NY city. I thought it interesting not disturbing. He's probably proud of it.lol

mocsandvolsfan writes:

in response to brod:

defense was horrible against uga last time. hope the vols have their legs back.

At least we seem to have our desire to win back. OR maybe we just got healthy. Either way we need to go all out the rest of the way. EVERYONE wants UT in the NCAA THIS year. But if not we're really looking good next year.(hehe I had to correct sp for not...I spelled it nit...I don't think it was prophetic)

johnlg00 writes:

in response to brod:

defense was horrible against uga last time. hope the vols have their legs back.

Agree. The Dawgs really let one get away at Vandy last night, so I'm sure they will be raging and storming to take out their disappointment against the Vols on Saturday. The Vols should have had all the rest they need to play well on Saturday, and I would say they are SURELY a more confident team than they were before and perhaps immediately after that loss to the Dawgs at TBA. I just hope they aren't OVERCONFIDENT and get sloppy against a still-dangerous UGA team. They still have NO margin for error.

lstbodeanvol writes:

where is 8inarow ?????

murrayvol writes:

in response to lstbodeanvol:

where is 8inarow ?????

comatose.

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