Tennessee bounced back Monday night after a tough two-game stretch of back-to-back losses to Wichita State NC State, but it wasn’t the usual suspects leading the charge.
After an up and down first half the Vols surged early in the second half to put away the Morehead State Eagles 82-67 on Monday, Dec. 23 in Thompson Boling Arena.
For Cuonzo Martin’s Vols it was a much need lift going into the holiday break for his team after dropping two-straight coming into Monday night’s game.
After their loss to NC State just the week prior, Martin had to do some damage control to ensure his team continued to stay poised and concentrate on the task at hand.
“You’ve got to stay aggressive on your approach,” Martin said. “I told them the morning after the loss that’s not Tennessee basketball. We just went back to work, continued to focus, and move forward.”
Although the Vols had their moments in the first half, they came out in the second half and quickly went on a 13-0 run to increase their 41-30 halftime lead.
Leading the charge for the Vols was Josh Richardson, who is mostly notorious for his play on the defensive end, and not the scoring side of things.
“Josh has got to be aggressive,” Martin said. “I keep telling him that. I tell him don’t settle for three-point shots, but constantly be aggressive.”
Richardson obviously heeded his coach’s words of advice, as he accounted for 19 of the Vols 82 points. He was the team’s leading scorer even though he only averages 7.6 points per game.
Richardson’s scoring outburst wasn’t the only surprise of the night. Sophomore forward Derek Reese made his 2013-2014 debut on Monday night, and provided a spark for the Vols as well. Reese finished with 12 points, a career high for him, in 19 valuable minutes of play.
“Derek Reese came in and gave us a great spark,” Martin said. “He was prepared and ready to come in and do his job.”
Martin said the only reason Reese had yet to see the floor this season was due to his lack of physicality in practice.
“He had to improve on getting physical and being able to guard big men down in the post,” Martin said. “He’s done a good job of that lately. We kept telling him to stay ready, stay ready. Before he was just a shooter but now he’s able to go in, contend down low, and get big rebounds.”
The only other abnormal feature in the Vols’ win was the low-scoring output of their leading scorer Jordan McRae.
McRae finished with just nine points, but made up for it with a team-high five assists against the Eagles.
After the victory, Tennessee will enjoy their small holiday break before returning to action in a week on Monday, Dec. 23 at home against the Virginia Cavaliers (9-3) at 7 p.m. on ESPN2.