Cuonzo Martin, making his debut as the Vols' head coach, was impressed. So was an announced crowd of 17,483. Not everyone in Thompson-Boling Arena on Friday night was taken aback by Golden's sensational play, however.
"I'm not really impressed," Vol teammate and fellow Georgia native Jordan McRae said, "because I've been seeing him do this since we were 11 and 12."
Golden averaged 29 points per game as a high school senior and routinely lit up scoreboards as an AAU teammate of McRae's, so Friday night's scoring binge was nothing McRae hadn't seen before. The nine assists was another matter entirely.
"I'm most impressed with him coming out and getting nine assists," McRae said, "because Trae used to just be a scorer. How he has molded into a leader and a point guard for this team has been amazing."
Martin also seemed more impressed with Golden's assist total than his point total, noting that "Trae did a really good job of attacking and distributing the ball and finding guys. Nine assists and 29 points is impressive with only two turnovers. Those are amazing stats in 27 minutes."
When asked about being in a "zone" with his shooting stroke, Golden expressed a lot more pride in his nine assists than his 29 points.
"I don't really gauge my zone off of points," he said. "I was trying to get more assists, get my teammates involved.... For me, being in my zone is getting a lot of assists."
Still, he clearly was zoned in during the game's first 18 minutes — hitting 7 of his first 8 field-goal tries, including 4 of 5 from beyond the arc — in guiding the Vols to a 43-28 lead that swelled to 49-30 by halftime. At the break he appeared headed for a triple-double, thanks to 19 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists.
After shooting just 18.2 percent from 3-point range as a freshman last season, Golden wasn't terribly surprised when the visiting Spartans backed off of him in the game's opening minutes.
"I shot like 25 percent from the 3-point line last year," he said, "so I'd challenge me to shoot the 3, too."
Golden was 4 of 5 from 3 at the half, and his feverish start seemed to infect his teammates. McRae hit 3 of 4 shots from beyond the arc in the opening 20 minutes and Cameron Tatum 2 of 3. As a team, the Vols were 17 of 27 overall and 9 of 16 from 3 at the break.
Although Golden was the star of the show, he wasn't the whole show. Jeronne Maymon chipped in 15 points on 6-of-8 shooting and McRae added 14 on 4-of-7 shooting that included 4 of 5 from behind the arc. With starting center Kenny Hall limited by foul trouble to 16 minutes, Renaldo Woolridge came off the bench to score 11 points and grab a team-high 8 rebounds in 26 quality minutes.
Korey Van Dussen produced 12 points to pace UNC Greensboro, which shot 41.5 percent from the field and 30.0 percent from 3. The Spartans outrebounded Tennessee 34-31 and committed fewer turnovers (10 versus 13) but lacked the athleticism to adequately defend the Vols, who shot 64.6 percent from the field (31 of 48) and 62.5 from 3-point range (15 of 24).
Naturally, Martin was unhappy with the Vols' rebounding, especially the fact UNCG managed 20 offensive boards. Still, he noted his players had been working so hard the past nine days (six practices, two exhibitions and the regular-season opener) that he felt compelled to cut back on their weight-lifting and box-out drills.
"We have five-on-five box-out drills in practice that are very taxing and very physical," the head man said. "We hadn't done box-out drills in probably a week because of that; you don't want guys injured or fatigued.
"But we will definitely get back to that (box-out drill) on Sunday."