Mike Strange: Win over Missouri brings Vols all the way back

Mike Strange
Tennessee guard Josh Richardson  and Missouri forward Alex Oriakhi  struggle for control of the ball at Thompson-Boling Arena on Saturday. (ADAM BRIMER/NEWS SENTINEL)

Photo by Adam Brimer

Tennessee guard Josh Richardson and Missouri forward Alex Oriakhi struggle for control of the ball at Thompson-Boling Arena on Saturday. (ADAM BRIMER/NEWS SENTINEL)

A little more than a month ago, a day like Saturday at Thompson-Boling Arena didn’t seem possible.

A little more than a month ago, Tennessee’s Vols told themselves they could fight back from a 3-6 SEC start, just as they did last year. But in their heart of hearts, it was sometimes hard to really believe it.

“For a while,’’ Jarnell Stokes said Saturday in reflection, “it started seeming like it wasn’t going to happen.’’

But it did happen. And it all led to a Saturday afternoon that was at once charged with joyful energy and fraught with tension.

How much was riding on the Senior Day finale, the Vols’ first-ever SEC game against Missouri?

Only everything, if you believe the NCAA tournament bracketologists.

Tennessee woke up Saturday knowing it needed a quality win over Mizzouri to preserve its precarious hold on the NCAA bubble.

By tipoff, bubble-mate Kentucky had rallied for a possible resume-saving win over Florida. Ole Miss had delivered at LSU.

As UT coach Cuonzo Martin told his team Friday, it was do or die.

The Vols did.

A come-from-behind 64-62 win ranks with the best on Martin’s watch, now two years old.

Getting from the depths of a 3-6 SEC start to set the stage for a must-win Saturday was one thing.

“Somehow, guys just manned up,’’ said Stokes.

But closing the deal in front of a packed house of 21,767 and an ESPN audience was a whole other thing — especially after Mizzou rolled out a 50-42 lead with 10 minutes left.

Missouri, to my eyes, was the most talented offensive team to visit Thompson-Boling this season. Sure enough, the Tigers hit eight of their first 11 shots.

An unexpected hero helped the Vols get engaged. Quinton Chievous scored all seven of his points and got four of his five rebounds in the first half. Ironically, his career game came against Mizzouri, where his dad, Derrick, was the all-time scoring leader.

“It was just another game for me,’’ said Chievous. “I wasn’t focused on that at all.’’

When UT needed more heroics in the second half, it was the usual suspects.

For the longest time, it seemed Jordan McRae wasn’t going to score. Then he ended up the leading scorer. Thirteen was Stokes’ lucky number, both points and rebounds.

Finally, Golden capped his personal comeback from a midseason slump with a killer 3-ball and a game-icing one-and-one.

The 3-pointer extended UT’s lead to 58-53 with 3:56 to left.

Golden glanced to the bench and assistant coach Tracy Webster, who had spent early-morning sessions in Pratt Pavilion, trying to prod Golden out of his malaise.

“He had a smirk on his face,’’ said Golden. “It was a great moment.’’

It was. And Tennessee’s fans deserve a shout out for help making it so.

They packed the place Saturday, just as they did against Kentucky and Florida. The sleeping giant Bruce Pearl awoke remains very much awake into the Martin era.

“Our crowd has been amazing all year,’’ said McCrae. Added Stokes, “They’re like our sixth man.’’

“Twenty-two thousand strong,’’ said Golden, “we didn’t want to not give them a victory.’’

They gave ‘em a victory that won’t be soon forgotten.

They gave ‘em a victory that didn’t seem possible a little over a month ago.

Mike Strange may be reached at strangem@knoxnews.com. Follow him on Twitter at Strangemike44.

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Comments » 23

aspenvol2 writes:

GBO. Love it.

SummittsCourt writes:

After being 11-10 and 3-6 in the SEC I didn't think this was possible either. I am glad to say I was wrong. Tennessee is the 5th seed in the SEC tournament and should get their 20th win at the tournament.

Beating #8 UF, #25 KU by 30, #16 Wichita St. and now Missouri who was a lock for the tournament. That one point loss to Georgetown is looking better too.

They are in the big dance!

lomas98 writes:

I don't think they are a lock for tourney. So many other teams can improve their resume as well. Luckily Belmont escaped last night over Murray. That is what needs to happen in the small tournaments. Hopefully Davidson doesn't get upset and Wichita or creighton win mvc. That is what we need to have happen as well. The potential game with Bama is important too. Two teams battling for final spots and the other team winning may nt look good. Also Bama, miss, ky could get hot and get the automatic bid....they only have to win 3 games instead of our 4.

Regardless, nothing is a lock unless you are ranked or win the conference tourney. Yesterday's win was a huge step.

hikerdude writes:

I was afraid #1 was going to eat our lunch, and instead he gave us the game with that airball late in the game. Good win!!

SevenT writes:

Tennessee will be lucky to make the NIT field

Just Saying

TNORANGEDOGDAD writes:

in response to SevenT:

Tennessee will be lucky to make the NIT field

Just Saying

(<:

sdjc#587498 writes:

in response to SevenT:

Tennessee will be lucky to make the NIT field

Just Saying

Trying to stir stuff up? Now you know the Vols are a lock for the NIT IF they dont make the tournament. A win in the SEC tourney should put them in though.

wigmeister writes:

Good win. Let the chips fall as they may.

stevefrommemphis writes:

Got to win two in the tournament to prevent Slive from lobbying to get his buddies at Kentucky and Alabama in, thereby knocking Tennessee out.

I thought Missouri was the most talented team Tennessee has played in the SEC - certainly the biggest problem for UT because of their size. I would not be surprised if Missouri wins the SEC Tournament. Mizzou is certainly the most underachieving this year in the conference.

Pompey writes:

in response to SevenT:

Tennessee will be lucky to make the NIT field

Just Saying

....please get back on to your medication....just saying!

johnlg00 writes:

in response to lomas98:

I don't think they are a lock for tourney. So many other teams can improve their resume as well. Luckily Belmont escaped last night over Murray. That is what needs to happen in the small tournaments. Hopefully Davidson doesn't get upset and Wichita or creighton win mvc. That is what we need to have happen as well. The potential game with Bama is important too. Two teams battling for final spots and the other team winning may nt look good. Also Bama, miss, ky could get hot and get the automatic bid....they only have to win 3 games instead of our 4.

Regardless, nothing is a lock unless you are ranked or win the conference tourney. Yesterday's win was a huge step.

Can't argue with any of this. The uneven results in the nonconference schedule put them in a deep hole which only by a valiant effort have they been able to climb out of to even put them in the conversation. Two wins in the SEC tourney make them a lead-pipe selection, IMHO. Perhaps more impressive to me is that they have discovered, even if possibly too late, how to win games they were losing before. That is a sign of progress, whichever way you slice it, and should certainly be something to build on for next year, especially since all the major contributors should be back.

stevefrommemphis writes:

First paragraph of my prior comment has a large dose of sarcasm, in case somebody doesn't get it.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to stevefrommemphis:

Got to win two in the tournament to prevent Slive from lobbying to get his buddies at Kentucky and Alabama in, thereby knocking Tennessee out.

I thought Missouri was the most talented team Tennessee has played in the SEC - certainly the biggest problem for UT because of their size. I would not be surprised if Missouri wins the SEC Tournament. Mizzou is certainly the most underachieving this year in the conference.

No doubt Mizzou has lots of talent, and indeed they may win the SEC tourney. One thing they prove beyond doubt is that PG play is a leading indicator of how a team is going play, good or bad. When Pressey is right, when he is threading passes and nailing 3-pointers, Mizzou is all but unbeatable. However, when he gets a little too overconfident or checks out mentally, Mizzou is in deep trouble. Of course, we have seen much the same thing with Golden. The two are very different types of player, but both are the leaders of their teams, for better or worse. Luckily, Golden made just a few more good plays on Saturday and a few less bad ones.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to SevenT:

Tennessee will be lucky to make the NIT field

Just Saying

Funny--in a sick kind of way--how none of the stuff you keep "just saying" ever amounts to much. Guess you never heard the old expression, "Better to keep your mouth shut and be thought a fool than to open it and remove all doubt."

BIVOLAR_BEARE writes:

in response to collegegrovebilly:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Good point, Toddy..Earlier this season they stood around totally perplexed when outside shots didn't fall against a sagging zone. I wish the NCAA would call illegal defenses and force teams to play more man, much like they did to stop the four corners offense Dean Smith used to be famous for.

licknpromise777#651578 writes:

in response to lomas98:

I don't think they are a lock for tourney. So many other teams can improve their resume as well. Luckily Belmont escaped last night over Murray. That is what needs to happen in the small tournaments. Hopefully Davidson doesn't get upset and Wichita or creighton win mvc. That is what we need to have happen as well. The potential game with Bama is important too. Two teams battling for final spots and the other team winning may nt look good. Also Bama, miss, ky could get hot and get the automatic bid....they only have to win 3 games instead of our 4.

Regardless, nothing is a lock unless you are ranked or win the conference tourney. Yesterday's win was a huge step.

Nice post my friend!!The last thing we need is a bid going to a .500 mid major in a tourney upset..In the committees eyes I think we are looking more favorable than Bama and Ole Miss..They have more wins but very bad SOS.Ole Miss went something like 14 straight games before they played anyone in the top 50 while we were busy playing Memphis,GTown,VA,Xavier and WSU..Still we have to beat Bama to advance and that will not be easy..Iam picking GA as the SEC tourney spoiler.Fox has really brought that group of nobody freshman along and they had Bama beat on Bama's court..Ole Miss is playing good too..The gators may flop early..No confidence and their defense has been awful..We beat Bama and we are in

licknpromise777#651578 writes:

in response to johnlg00:

No doubt Mizzou has lots of talent, and indeed they may win the SEC tourney. One thing they prove beyond doubt is that PG play is a leading indicator of how a team is going play, good or bad. When Pressey is right, when he is threading passes and nailing 3-pointers, Mizzou is all but unbeatable. However, when he gets a little too overconfident or checks out mentally, Mizzou is in deep trouble. Of course, we have seen much the same thing with Golden. The two are very different types of player, but both are the leaders of their teams, for better or worse. Luckily, Golden made just a few more good plays on Saturday and a few less bad ones.

I agree John;Mizzo has 4 solid players that can kill you..Frankly I was shocked we handled their post players and when we were down 8 I had written his off!!In the end it came down to us playing for our life..Haith blew it not calling a time out and not getting the ball to Bower..

johnlg00 writes:

in response to BIVOLAR_BEARE:

Good point, Toddy..Earlier this season they stood around totally perplexed when outside shots didn't fall against a sagging zone. I wish the NCAA would call illegal defenses and force teams to play more man, much like they did to stop the four corners offense Dean Smith used to be famous for.

The shot clock pretty much took out the four corners offense; that outright slowdown was part of the CAUSE for the shot clock. I would hate to see zones outlawed. After all, making open shots from outside is a key fundamental of the game, is it not? I am against any change to the game that favors size and speed over all else. Modern basketball is a much more physical game than it used to be, but it is intended to be a game of finesse as well.

SouthPaVol writes:

Best game I've seen the Vols play, against a very talented team. It was the first Vols game my granddaughter has attended. Some good memories. Go Vols!

volfaninutah writes:

Don't get to see the B-ball Vols on TV out here very often. Yesterday was a great game. Mizzou always has a good team. I thought we were gonna let one slip away with a couple of minutes left, but our guys made plays down the stretch and brought it home. It was an exciting game. I knew Coach Martin could get the program going again. Confidence plays a huge part in any program. When Pearl left, we lost that swagger, but a good tournament run could get that swagger back and we'll be back competing with the Kentucky and FLoridas like we should... Good luck guys. I'll be watching from afar.

MooseandSquirrelVol writes:

in response to SevenT:

Tennessee will be lucky to make the NIT field

Just Saying

Wrong Slick.
You're beatin' those toothless gums alright, but you're never sayin' anything.

pvtoe writes:

in response to SevenT:

Tennessee will be lucky to make the NIT field

Just Saying

You sir, are an idiot!!!

FanNotSheep writes:

Tennessee is a hot team. Nobody really wants to play us right now. Ask KY, UF or MO. I'd love to see the Vols take the whole thing this year and put all the SEC jinx stuff behind them for good.

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