Nashville, Tenn. – Playing in the Music City, it was appropriate that the Vols used a talented trio to help pick up their second-consecutive road win on Wednesday night at Vanderbilt.
Strong efforts from Jarnell Stokes, Jordan McRae and Trae Golden, who made his first start since Jan. 9 against Ole Miss, helped the Vols (13-10, 5-6 SEC) roll into Memorial Gymnasium and pick up the 58-46 win over Vanderbilt (9-14, 3-8 SEC).
“We can be great,” Golden said of Tennessee’s potential when those three play well. “But it’s basketball so you never know what’s going to happen. I think the biggest thing is we have to make sure we get Jarnell the ball and just kind of play off of that and get in transition – that’s where me and Jordan excel.”
Tennessee shot a blistering 53.3 percent from the field and 50 percent from 3 in the first half to build a 40-28 lead.
The lead swelled to as much as 16 before Vandy (9-14, 3-8 SEC) cut it down to eight midway through the second half. The Vols didn’t let it get any closer, though, holding Vanderbilt to just 37.7 percent from the field and 21.4 percent from behind the arc.
“We defended well,” coach Cuonzo Martin said. “That Princeton-style offense is tough to defend with the cuts and the movement. I thought our guys really accepted the challenge from start to finish. I thought, for the most part, we did a good job of finishing the game in a tough venue to play in.”
A year after turning the ball over 25 times in a 65-47 loss in Nashville, the Vols did a much better job taking care of the ball, finishing the game with just nine turnovers.
Stokes, who had seven turnovers in a frustrating performance in Nashville last year, saw Wednesday night as a sign of how far he’s progressed in a year.
"I feel like I’m much more confident playing on the road,” Stokes said. “I can just remember the last time I came in here, that was my reality check coming to college, dealing with the atmosphere here. I think you can see here today, I’m just more confident playing on the road. I don’t feel like a freshman.”
It’s not just Stokes that has found some rhythm on the road. After dropping their first six away contests this year, Tennessee has now won two straight away from Thompson-Boling Arena.
“Another big road game for our guys, especially in a tough, tough place to play,” Martin said. “For the guys to keep their composure and have just two turnovers in the first half, execute, run the offense and have good spacing.
“You win a road game [at South Carolina] so there’s a level of confidence going into the next game … To come in here and play the way we played and keep your composure, the crowd got involved, keep your composure, make enough plays to make the game. We knew those guys would make a run, but we made enough plays.”
Stokes recorded his sixth straight double-double with 17 points and 10 rebounds in the win. McRae also recorded his first career double-double with 14 points and 11 boards.
"We've identified that Jarnell has really stepped up as our guy,” Martin said.”The offense flows through Jarnell, as opposed to the beginning of the season."
• Golden took Kenny Hall’s spot in the starting lineup. Hall didn’t play, but Martin said that was simply due to match ups.
• Wednesday’s win, combined with a 58-57 win over the Commodores in Knoxville in January gave Tennessee the season sweep in the series. It’s the sixth time in the last 13 years the Vols have swept Vanderbilt.
• Golden, McRae, Stokes, Armani Moore and Josh Richardson was the sixth different lineup used by Martin this year.
• Stokes now leads the SEC in double-doubles (10).
• The Vols tied for the second-least amount of points given up in the Cuonzo Martin era (46).
Daniel Lewis covers University of Tennessee athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @DanielNooga