Grind. Battle. Struggle.
The adjectives often used to describe Tennessee offensive possessions were, at least for a moment, casually swept away in Saturday's 72-57 win over Mississippi State.
About eight minutes into the game's second half, the Vols' motion offense looked fluent and self-assured on a series of possessions.
Trae Golden found Jordan McRae cutting backdoor for an uncontested dunk. Then Golden found Jarnell Stokes on the blocks for another dunk. Those two plays followed back-to-back 3-pointers by Derek Reese, who bookended the series with another 3 to cap a 13-2 run.
The 17,584 onlookers at Thompson-Boling Arena glanced at each other. Who is this team?
But it was the Vols. The same team peppered with inquiries about the meandering production of Golden and Stokes, along with never-ending questions about offensive continuity, found balance.
This is the Tennessee basketball coach Cuonzo Martin envisions. Seventy-two points on 63 possessions. An efficiency rating of 114.3. An assist-to-turnover rating of 1.73 thanks to a season-high 19 dimes.
Not to mention a win —UT's first in the SEC this season.
The sigh of relief sweeping through Thompson-Boling blew the tumbleweed off the Vols' offense.
"We've been in situations like this before, it's just us maturing mentally — locking down on defense, moving the ball offensively, setting good screens, all the things we work on," Martin said. "Once you're able to get a win you can breathe a little bit and move forward, play the way you're capable of playing."
But keep in mind, Tennessee (9-7, 1-3) was far from perfect and Mississippi State is the same team that lost to Loyola-Chicago and Alabama A&M.
Martin wants more.
"I still don't think we played great basketball, I just think we were good enough to win the game," he said. "We had the talent level in certain areas — Jarnell dominated around the rim, Trae penetrated and pitched, but I don't think we played at the level we're capable of playing."
They'll need to on Thursday. Traveling to Oxford, Miss., the Vols will face an Ole Miss team riding a seven-game winning streak, sitting atop the SEC standings at 4-0 and holding a lofty 15-2 record overall.
That Tennessee offense? It's going to have to hang with a Rebel attack ranking fourth nationally in points per game (82.4).
Less than two weeks ago, Ole Miss dropped 92 points in an 18-point romp over UT. The Vols say they're looking ahead, not behind, however.
"Today was a great opportunity, but Thursday is even more of an opportunity to turn things around," Stokes said.
To do so, he and Golden will have to continue their play from Saturday. Avoiding foul trouble and playing 28 minutes, Stokes scored 18 points, his most since a win over Presbyterian on Dec. 18, and grabbed 11 rebounds. Golden, who had missed 32 of his last 42 shots, scored 10 points on 4 of 8 shooting and dished a season-high nine assists.
"We just have to play well and have our team end on a positive note," Golden said after the game. "I needed this today. The past few weeks have been tough and I'm just glad we got the win. Our team has been getting good rhythms."
Brendan F. Quinn covers Tennessee men's basketball. Follow him at Twitter.com/BFQuinn