The team bus pulled up to Thompson-Boling Arena at 2:30 a.m. Tennessee’s Wednesday night victory at Auburn had dribbled over into Thursday morning.
Jarnell Stokes had recorded his 13th double-double of the season in the 82-75 win. But he was restless. He had unfinished business.
Knowing the Vols (18-11, 10-7 SEC) had a huge home game coming up against Missouri (22-8, 11-6) on Saturday (TV: ESPN, 4 p.m.), Stokes didn’t want to put his head on the pillow until he exorcised the horror of missing nine out of 10 free throws at Auburn.
“The guys were making jokes, that I almost got a triple-double,’’ Stokes said Thursday afternoon. “I don’t think that was funny, but that overshadowed a good night for me.’’
So Stokes grabbed a basketball, stalked to the free-throw line in the darkened arena with teammate Yemi Makanjuola in tow to rebound.
“All I had to tell him was I’ll give him a shout out on Instagram,’’ Stokes said, referring to the social media device for posting photos online.
Stokes stayed until he made 100 free throws, finishing with a 10-for-10 exclamation point.
And good to his word, he posted a photo on Instagram that attracted Makanjuola a host of new followers.
“Last night (at Auburn) was terrible,’’ Stokes said. “I didn’t want that to affect my confidence. ... I didn’t want to go back in the rut, missing a lot of free throws.’’
He missed enough at Auburn to drop his season percentage from 58.3 before tipoff to 55.6 when coach Cuonzo Martin pulled him out of harm’s way to the bench.
“He’d been shooting well up to that point,’’ Martin said Thursday. “We all have bad days.
“He knows he’s been shooting free throws well. He struggled last night and he took it personal. That’s a good sign.’’
Tennessee can ill afford to have Stokes be a liability at the free-throw line.
That’s especially true in what promises to be a physical match with Missouri’s front-line tandem of Alex Oriakhi and Laurence Bowers.
“I think he’s gonna fix it,’’ said teammate Josh Richardson. “He’ll be better Saturday.’’
Tickets, Energy: A UT official told the News Sentinel on Thursday afternoon approximately 600 tickets remained for Missouri’s first SEC appearance in Knoxville.
Both Martin and his players are hoping for an electric Senior Day environment to assist against an extremely talented Missouri team.
“Our guys,’’ Martin said, “have put in the work to be in position to finish strong.
“So if (tipoff) is 4, let’s be there at 3, not only for the seniors but to get that energy going early.’’
Return to TBA: Missouri has never played in Thompson-Boling Arena, but two of the Tigers have.
Oriakhi was here just last year with Connecticut, a game the Vols won 60-57.
Oriakhi, who gained immediate eligibility at Missouri, fouled out in 19 minutes, with five points and seven rebounds.
Guard Earnest Ross played here in 2009-10 as an Auburn freshman.
The Tigers have three other Division I transfers on the roster.
Haith Likes Martin: Missouri’s second-year coach Frank Haith professes to be a big fan of Martin, his counterpart at UT.
“I think he’s a star,’’ Haith said on a Thursday teleconference. “I have so much respect for him, how he does things.
“His teams mirror him as a player. He was a hard-nosed cat when he played (at Purdue).’’
But Haith’s admiration has bounds. There’s a lot on the line for both teams Saturday afternoon.
“I ain’t cheering for him on Saturday,’’ Haith said, “but I do root for him and want him to do well.’’
Follow Mike Strange on Twitter at Strangemike44.