Jarnell Stokes (26 points, 14 rebounds) and fellow 6-foot-8 post Jeronne Maymon (11 points, 11 rebounds) dominated inside from opening tip to final horn as the 11th-seeded Vols overpowered the sixth-seeded Minutemen 86-67 in second-round NCAA Tournament action. UMass entered the day ranked 19th nationally with 5.5 blocked shots per game. Told of the stat, Maymon shook his head in disbelief.
"That team?" he asked incredulously. "I couldn't tell. As long and athletic as they are, I thought they would be shot-blockers. After we realized they weren't we just started pump-faking, then going right up."
For the record, UMass blocked just one shot on Friday.
The win, coupled with No. 14 seed Mercer's stunning 78-71 defeat of third-seeded Duke, puts the Big Orange (23-12) and the Bears (27-8) in third-round play Sunday at PNC Arena. The winner of that game will advance to the Midwest Region semifinals (Sweet 16) at Indianapolis.
Although most of the Vols played well, the star on this day clearly was Stokes. The powerfully built junior seemed to get a basket or two free throws each time he touched the ball. He finished 7 of 11 from the field and 12 of 13 from the foul line.
"I kept talking to the ref and trying to get the ref to understand what I've been going through," Stokes said. "The refs did a great job of calling fouls, and I've really worked on my free throws. It paid off tonight."
Opponents have been clawing at him, holding him and jostling him all season, so UMass' attempt to get physical with him was just another day at the office for Stokes.
"If anything, being fouled so much made me stronger," he said. "Sometimes I get foul calls and I don't feel it because I'm so used to having someone grab on me. I just go up and try to get and-ones."
When Stokes is playing as aggressively as he was Friday Tennessee is awfully difficult to beat.
"That makes us real tough," said teammate Jordan McRae, who chipped in 21 points. "Jarnell did a great job of asserting himself early. Jeronne was also scoring down there. Having two big guys like that is helping us out a lot."
Following a horrendous start in first-round play Wednesday night against Iowa, the Vols were much more composed in Round 2. After spotting UMass a 2-0 lead, they got a 3-pointer from McRae, a layup by Stokes, then three free throws by Josh Richardson en route to an 8-2 lead. The Minutemen closed to 8-6 but two layups by Maymon and one by Stokes sparked a 13-2 explosion that bumped the lead to 21-8.
"We threw it inside early and got a lot of shots up around the rim," McRae said of the quick start. "We knew then that's where we were going to be able to go all night."
Maymon said the Vols "got the jitters out" by playing on Wednesday, adding: "I think we were a little anxious in the Iowa game. We were more comfortable (today) and we had our flow. We knew we had to execute, and we went in there and got it done."
|Vols junior Jarnell Stokes (5) goes up between a pair of UMass defenders in the lane.|
"I think being in Dayton was great for us," he said. "Not only did we get our nerves out of the way, but we got our legs under us a little bit."
When UMass closed to 21-12, the 6-foot-6 McRae began attacking the basket. He scored on a seven-footer from in front, a layup and a baseline drive to spark an 11-2 spurt that pushed the lead to 32-14. A thunderous dunk by McRae widened the gap to 20 points (38-18) with 2:10 left to intermission.
Up 41-22 at the break, Tennessee got a little complacent at the start of the second half, and UMass closed to 48-38. Rather than wilt, the Vols rallied.
"We knew they (Minutemen) were going to make a push, so we were ready for it," McRae said. "We got some easy points, and that helped us out a lot."
McRae got those "easy points," sandwiching two short jumpers around a three-point play in a 9-2 spurt that bumped the lead to 57-40 and reclaimed the momentum for good.
"We have a lot of guys that are capable of going off like that – Josh, Jarnell, Tone (Antonio Barton) and myself included," Maymon said. "With Jordan, we expect him to do that. It's not a surprise when he does that."
Tennessee shot a strong 53.6 percent from the field, despite going 2 of 14 from 3-point range. The Vols won the backboard battle 37-33.
Maxie Esho and Chaz Williams scored 12 points each for UMass, which shot 42.4 percent from the field with more turnovers (13) than assists (12). The Minutemen close the season 24-9.
Tennessee was so far ahead entering the final minutes that head coach Cuonzo Martin cleared his bench.
"Man, any time you can sit on the bench and just wait for the clock to go down, it's a great feeling," McRae said. "To do it in The Tournament is an even better feeling."
Jeronne Maymon video interview
Jarnell Stokes video interview
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