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Tennessee Beats UMass 86-67, Will Face Mercer

After a tense 40 minutes in Dayton, the Vols were back to their recent ways in Raleigh.

In a matchup of Volunteers and Minutemen, Tennessee dominated from the opening tip.  The Vols did trail in this one, but for all of seven seconds:  UMass scored first, Jordan McRae answered with a three, and off we went on a 21-8 run to start the game.  UMass was down 19 at halftime when McRae splashed another three, then cut the lead to ten with 14:21 to go.  But Tennessee continually broke the UMass press and found easy opportunities on the other end, never letting things get too far out of hand and eventually cruising to a 19 point win.

Hats off to UMass guard Chaz Williams who brought a ton of energy to both ends of the floor.  But the Vols were simply way too much for this team.  Jarnell Stokes' previous career high was 24 against UMass in Puerto Rico last year.  Today he had 26 points and 14 rebounds, and went 12 of 13 from the free throw line.  His partner in crime finished with 11 points (9 in the first half) and 11 rebounds.

Jordan McRae scored 21 points and really stepped off the gas in the final eight minutes.  And Josh Richardson was sensational again, hitting a big mid-range jumper when UMass had cut the lead to ten, scoring an incredible from-behind block at the rim to regain momentum again, and finishing with 15 points and five assists.  The Vols improved to 19-1 when shooting 43.9% or better with 53.6% today; it's the fourth-best percentage on the year, and really the most impressive when you consider the three better are Tusculum, The Citadel, and Tennessee State.  And UT goes to 17-2 with 12+ assists with 16 today to go with just a dozen turnovers; UMass gave it away 13 times.

Today's game was an example of the Vols using their defense to stifle a great offensive team, then also proving they could out-run that team on the other end of the floor.  Tennessee abused the UMass press and attacked the rim in transition; the Vols were 2 of 14 from three and non-McRaes were 0 of 9.  But Tennessee went 28 of 42 from two, 66.7%!

By the way, Antonio Barton was 0 for 7 (0 for 5 from the arc).  We need Barton going forward, but today's game was another indicator that Tennessee's best basketball is more a slave to defense than Barton's play.  Tennessee held UMass to 22 points in the first half and put the game out of reach before some late game sloppiness gave the Minutemen 67 points overall.

By the way, did you hear Mercer beat Duke?  Tennessee moves to the Round of 32 and will now face the 14 seed Bears, who put Tennessee out of the first round of the NIT in Knoxville last season.  We'll have more on the Bears later, but that's a senior-laden squad who knows they can beat Tennessee.  This isn't like 2010 when 14 seed Ohio hit a billion threes to upset Georgetown.  Mercer beat Duke straight up and would've beat them worse if the Blue Devils didn't hit 15 threes.

Nothing will be free tomorrow regardless of seed, but we'll worry about that tomorrow.  Today, regardless of seed, Tennessee proved they were the better basketball team.  But let's also not forget to celebrate a 19 point NCAA Tournament win over a six seed; other than #2 Ohio State in 2010 and #4 Virginia in 2007, #6 UMass is the highest-seeded team the Vols have beaten during the Pearl/Cuonzo Era.  And the Vols dominated them.

Sunday's coming, and with Duke out there should be plenty of good seats available in Raleigh.  Wherever you are, paint it orange and let's get behind this team all the way to the Sweet 16.

Go Vols.