With just under three minutes left in a tie game against Arkansas McRae single-handedly outscored the Razorbacks 13-6 over the final 2:46, turning a 68-68 deadlock into an 81-74 Vol victory. He finished with a season-high 34 points, one off his career high.
"I really wanted the ball at the end of the game," he said, "especially when I knew they were fouling."Jarnell Stokes all evening.
"It was really hard for Jarnell … sometimes three or four guys on him," McRae said. "They were going under all of the screens to try and hurry up and get back to Jarnell, so I was finding a little room to shoot it."
And nobody likes to "shoot it" more than McRae. He finished 9 of 18 from the field, including 4 of 8 from 3-point range. He also contributed 12 of 14 free throws, 7 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 blocks and 2 steals while committing just 1 turnover in 36 minutes.
The key stat, however, was scoring Tennessee's final 13 points with the game on the line.
"Jordan stepped up," Vol head coach Cuonzo Martin said. "This was his kind of environment (fast pace), where he can just open up and play. I thought he did a good job."
After a slow start McRae did an especially good job in the final minutes. In addition to being the Vols' best at creating his own shot, he's their best free-throw shooter. That's a valuable guy to have at crunch time.
"I thought Jordan did a good job making shots," Martin said. "After the first six or seven minutes he got into a rhythm, got into a better flow. When his shots started falling his confidence went to another level."
Although happy with his big finish, McRae seemed more relieved than anything. A loss Wednesday night would have been devastating.
"This was a game I didn't want to lose, especially a home game like this," he said. "We needed this win."
Indeed. The Vols, now 12-6 overall and 3-2 in SEC play, cannot afford any more home-court losses if they are to qualify for an NCAA Tournament bid. Tennessee appeared on the verge of just that, however, when it surrendered an 11-0 run that gave Arkansas a 59-51 second-half lead.
Still down 68-66 with four minutes left, Jeronne Maymon was ruled to be intentionally fouled on a drive to the basket that may have turned the game. He hit both free throws to tie the score at 68, then McRae bagged a 3-point bomb that completed a five-point possession and gave Tennessee a 71-68 lead.
Two McRae foul shots bumped the lead to 73-68 with 2:25 to play. Two more produced a 75-70 lead with 1:45 left. He made one of two, expanding the lead to 76-70 with 1:15 to go. After a basket by Arkansas and two missed foul shots by Vol teammate Antonio Barton, McRae hit a free throw at 0:24.7, two more at 0:15 and two more at 0:07.8.
|Tennessee senior Jeronne Maymon is fouled leaping toward the basket versus Arkansas.|
Still, McRae wasn't the whole show. Maymon hit 4 of 5 field goals and 9 of 10 foul shots en route to a 17-point, 9-rebound effort. Josh Richardson chipped in 10 points. Stokes managed 7 points and 6 rebounds. Moore provided a lift off the bench by contributing 5 points, 4 rebounds, 4 blocks and an assist in 13 spectacular first-half minutes.
Incredibly, Tennessee was 11 of 27 from the field each half for a 40.7 percent shooting percentage. The Vols shot 36.8 percent (7 of 19) from 3-point range and 78.9 percent (30 of 38) from the foul line. The Big Orange won the backboards 42-37 but committed 15 turnovers.
Arkansas shot 43.1 percent from the field and 41.2 percent from beyond the arc.
Tennessee returns to action Saturday, challenging sixth-ranked Florida in Gainesville. To win the Vols must play significantly better than they did against the Razorbacks.
As ugly as Wednesday's performance was, however, Martin figures any win is a good win.
"That's part of it," he said. "You get a W and keep moving."
See InsideTennessee's gallery of images from the action in the slideshow below (click to enlarge):