We wrote earlier today about UT's struggles in close games, but noted that our 15 wins have come by an average of 19.7 points. Make it 16: Tennessee blasted a Georgia team that had won four straight by, you guessed it, 19 points. It was quite similar to almost every Tennessee win this year in terms of pace, with Tennessee extending a six point halftime lead into comfy double digits early in the second half. The Vols definitely got the message about getting the ball to Jarnell Stokes, and he was spectacular: 9 of 13 for 20 points and 11 rebounds.
We've been joking in the comments about Jarnell's "they made me use my skill" comment from the Florida postgame, but there's a lot of truth in it. At times Stokes gets the job done just because he's big. But against better competition Stokes had shown flashes of touch in the post, and now those flashes are coming regularly, especially when he gets going early. When Tennessee gets him in a groove, his skill comes out with spin moves and running half-hooks and even some up-and-under stuff that guys his size shouldn't be able to do, and he has enough touch to make it work.
Also feeling it tonight: Antonio Barton, who dropped more threes tonight (4) than he had in the entire month of February coming in. Again, Tennessee's strengths and weaknesses are layered and it's more complicated than, "If Barton is hot we're tough to beat,"...but if Barton is hot, we're tough to beat.
The only really interesting note is one to file away, because it was just one game, and see if it returns: Jordan McRae took just five shots. He still played 31 minutes, but that was his fewest number since being pulled from the blowout in Gainesville.
Potentially interesting stat: UT's best and most consistent basketball this year was the four game stretch from Morehead State to LSU. In those four games McRae averaged just 8.5 shots per game and the Vols went 4-0. For the season McRae averages 13.6 shots per game. Five shots tonight is the fewest he's taken since Rupp Arena, January 2012 against #1 Kentucky. Just something to keep an eye on.
None of the games left on our schedule are going to put a huge punch in our RPI - the Vols went from 54 to 51 with the win tonight - but none of the games left on our schedule will feature Tennessee as an underdog. The Vols got this one tonight, now they need the next one Saturday at Texas A&M in a rematch from the shocking last second loss in Knoxville.