It was over at halftime. Tennessee held Oakland to 16% shooting from the floor in the opening period, good for 15 points, the lowest point total in a half for a Vols opponent since a 2009 thrashing of UNC-Asheville. Tennessee, on the other side, turned the ball over just three times and shot 10 of 12 from inside the arc, opening up a 38-15 lead at the break. And Oakland never came back. The lead stayed above 20 until the 9:32 mark in the second half, and the Vols let it get no lower than 19, actually extending it to 73-44 just before the under four timeout.
All told, the Volunteers, led by Trae Golden and Jarnell Stokes, downed the Golden Grizzlies 77-50 tonight in Thompson-Boling Arena. The Vols outshot the Grizzlies 53% to 29% and out-rebounded them 41-23. Golden went 7 of 9 from the floor, finishing with 18 points and 7 assists to just one turnover, and Stokes, after missing a bunny early, made his last seven shots to finish with 19 points and 5 rebounds. Kenny Hall led the team on the boards with 11, to go along with 9 points.
The Vols' defense performed just as well as the stats indicated, as a cold-shooting Oakland bunch took most of those shots with a hand in their face. And, while the game leveled out in the second half, the Vols avoided the major slips in focus that accompanied big leads against Kennesaw State and UNC-Asheville. Tennessee held a 23-point lead at halftime, and the entire second half was played with the margin between 19 and 29.
That's not to say the game was perfect. Josh Richardson had 3 turnovers, a stat where he continues to lead the team. And Tennessee's maddening tendency to jack up threes against a zone defense continued. They opened the second half by taking four of their first five shots from beyond the arc, missing all of them, and finished with just six made baskets on 22 three-point attempts. Even Kenny Hall was baited into taking a pair of triples. Neither came close.
But when the Vols settled down and attacked, things went well. Trae Golden made his fair share of beautiful passes, and even Jarnell Stokes and Kenny Hall got into the action, with the bigs combining for 5 assists and just one turnover. And the defense, of course, was everything Cuonzo's Vols had promised. Both will be needed in the coming stretch, as Tennessee travels to Washington D.C. to take on Georgetown Friday night and will face Virginia and Wichita State before dialing the schedule back down before Christmas.
When it was all said and done, Tennessee got a measure of revenge for two straight losses to Oakland and they never left any doubt, responding to 7 and 8-point defeats with a 27-point victory. While Oakland might've been declared dead at the half, the story of the game was written much earlier, as Tennessee used an early 13-0 run to open a 15-2 lead, and the Golden Grizzlies never came close from there.
We'll be back Friday night at 6:30 PM, when ESPN will show the tilt between the Volunteers and Hoyas, who will be no easy out after taking down UCLA and battling #1 Indiana for 40 minutes and then some. See you then.