Vols Show Yemi Power, Cruise Past The Citadel

Led by 12 first half points by Skylar McBee and a second half double-double by Yemi Makanjuola, Tennessee dispatched The Citadel 86-55. The Vols never trailed and were never tied after a Maymon lay-up made it 4-2. The crowd was in cruise control the whole game, getting loudest when Ryan Kilmartin hit a garbage time three to extend the lead to 84-52. But while the team had a chance to copy the Austin Peay script, running out to a lead and letting the opponent back in the game, they kept their foot on the gas and never gave the Bulldogs a chance.

While it was far from perfect, the Vol offense worked as it should against a mediocre defense. Even though only Skylar McBee found his deep shooting touch in the first half--making four of six three-point attempts--Tennessee built a 40-25 lead behind contributions from almost everywhere. Tennessee's inside players made short shots (and would finish a combined 17 of 22 from the field), and Trae Golden was able to drive the lane consistently for the first time since early November. In total, thirteen Vols scored, seven recorded seven or more points, and four reached double figures.

But it was the defense that truly shone. Against an admittedly weak offense, the Tennessee defense did exactly what they were expected to do, holding the Bulldogs to just 39% from the field and forcing 14 turnovers.

That said, there were problems. Midway through the second half, The Citadel was holding their own on the glass. The Vols were rebounding less than a quarter of their misses, while the Bulldogs picked up roughly a third of their own. But then Cuonzo Martin put Yemi Makanjuola in the game. In nine minutes, Yemi scored 18 points--the only Vol to score in that stretch--and grabbed 11 rebounds, pushing the Vols' offensive rebounding percentage to 50% for the game.

While the game was no longer in doubt when he entered, Makanjuola's performance was the story of the evening. He showed against an inferior opponent what Vol fans hope to someday see against the best: a completely dominant inside performance. His story seems a little bit like Brian Williams without the weight loss, a newcomer to basketball with the size to succeed seeking the polish that will yield a difference-maker at an SEC level. Williams was a major contributor for two years. But Williams never had the athletic ability of Makanjuola, and he never had this kind of performance early in his career. There will be plenty of bumps in the road, but we can only hope tonight showed a glimpse of the player we'll see three years from now. And in the interim, the Vols will hope he can shore up their spotty rebounding.

Makanjuola and McBee were joined by Trae Golden and Renaldo Woolridge with 10 points each. No one other than Makanjuola exceeded 5 rebounds. Golden led the team with 5 assists, followed by Josh Richardson and Jordan McRae with 4 each. The Vols shot 56% from the floor and 73% from the line, with every free throw taken by Hall, Maymon, Woolridge, or Makanjuola. Tennessee plays again on January 2nd against Chattanooga.

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