On Saturday Tennessee basketball, who most considered an easy tournament team, was demolished down in the swamp by the Florida Gators.
One of the Vols’ worst offensive performances of the season led to head coach Cuonzo Martin’s first loss to the Gators since taking the job in 2011.
With the season dwindling down, seven losses already, and not many chances left to pull off a signature win needed to get them into the tournament, the Vols were then faced with needing to win out the regular season to receive a solid tournament bid. As weak as their schedule is moving forward it seems to be an easy task for the preseason predicted third best team in the SEC, right?
First up for the Vols would be taming the Ole Miss Rebels, led by a sharp-shooting Marshall Henderson who torched them in both games a season ago.
While Henderson again found a way to get his points, Tennessee pulled together as a group for one of the few times this season to put away the Rebels 86-70 on Wednesday night in Thompson Boling Arena.
Henderson still hung 26 points up on the Vols, but outside of his teammate, Jarvis Summers’ help with 16 points, the Rebels were virtually silent on the offensive end.
Jordan McRae led the way in scoring for the Vols, a good sign considering his five-point performance in Gainesville on Saturday, but it was Tennessee’s ability to stretch the floor on Wednesday night that led to a decisive victory to improve them to 13-7, 4-3 in the SEC.
The Vols began the game connecting on three shots from beyond-the-arc, and jumped on the Rebels early. They took a 19-point lead midway through the first half, but once Henderson caught fire the lead slowly dwindled down to 12 by halftime.
Coming out of the half, however, Henderson began to cool off and Tennessee continued to stay hot. The Vols were able to find productivity out in space, in their half-court sets, from behind-the-arc, and in the paint as well.
By game’s end McRae had done, well, what McRae does, Stokes had his 11th double-double of the season (29th of his career) with 13 points and 14 boards. Richardson and Maymon both put up double-digit scoring figures, and Darius Thompson, with his first start in SEC play, had an impressive seven point and seven assist performance.
When multiple people contribute, the Vols are almost guaranteed victory. McRae having a 20-plus point game is just an added bonus.
The Vols’ next stop on their treacherous road to reach the NCAA tournament will be in Tuscaloosa, Ala. on Saturday night. Tennessee hasn’t won on the road against the Tide since 2010, and coach Martin has only defeated Alabama once in four tries since taking over at Tennessee.
The Vols and Tide will tip at 9 p.m. on ESPN2.