“No, I did not see this coming,” Baulkman said, smiling sheepishly after hitting 7 of 9 field goals, 4 of 6 3-pointers and 4 of 4 foul shots in leading a 64-54 victory.
The 6-foot-5 junior college transfer has shown flashes in the past. He averaged 15.5 points for Gulf Coast State College last winter with a 48-point explosion figured in. Then he scored 35.3 points per game in the Rocky Top League last summer. After a slow start this season, he posted back-to-back 10-point efforts in Game 8 against North Carolina State and Game 9 against Tennessee Tech before going off against Mercer in Game 10.
Baulkman, who did not start the game, said his practice week was nothing special. Nor was his shooting in pre-game warmups. The key to his performance, he believes, was attitude.
“I came into the game positive and focused and on a mission,” he said. “The mission was to rebound and knock down open shots.”
He succeeded on both counts. In addition to his scoring prowess, he recorded 6 rebounds, a blocked shot and 2 steals.
“He was fantastic,” Vol coach Donnie Tyndall said. “But it’s not about shots made and shots attempted. He had six rebounds – two offensive, which were huge. He had two steals in 21 minutes and he got to the foul line four times, so he did other things (besides scoring).
“I tell these young guys, ‘If you get your hands on balls in all these different ways – whether it’s deflections or steals or rebounds – it’s amazing how your offense will start clicking. I think that was the case for him tonight.”
Apparently, Baulkman’s shot selection has changed dramatically since his JUCO days.
“In junior college he took 12 bad shots a game, and his coach lived with it because he made some of those,” Tyndall quipped. “Here, he may not get 12 shots total in a game.”
Maybe, but Baulkman needs to keep firing from beyond the 3-point line. He was 2 for 2 against North Carolina State and 2 for 2 against Tennessee Tech, then hit his first three against Mercer. That’s seven 3s in a row for those keeping score at home.
“It gave me a lot of confidence coming into this game,” he said. “That’s basically it.”
Over his last three games Baulkman is 8 of 10 from beyond the arc. For the season he is 10 of 19, which is a sizzling 52.6 percent.
Baulkman signed with Tyndall at Southern Miss last November, then followed him to Knoxville when his coach took the Vol reins in April.
“He’s a cool dude,” Baulkman said, “and I like that swagger about him.”
Baulkman came off the bench firing four minutes into Monday's game. He nailed a 3 from the right wing to tie the score at 5, then hit one from the left corner to give Tennessee an 8-7 lead. He knew right then it was going to be a good night.
“Once I hit the second one I knew it was a rout,” he said. “When I’m on I’m on, and when I’m off I’m off. That’s just how it is.”
Tennessee led just 17-15 before closing the first half on a 10-0 run. Most of the damage was done on one bizarre possession.
Leading 19-15, Willie Carmichael scored and was fouled, with Mercer coach Bob Hoffman being whistled for a technical foul after criticizing the call a bit too strenuously. Josh Richardson hit the two technical free throws. Carmichael missed the personal foul shot but Armani Moore scored on the putback to complete an ultra-rare six-point possession that widened the gap from 19-15 to 25-15. Baulkman scored on a breakaway dunk moments later to produce a 27-15 lead and conclude the first-half scoring.
The lead peaked at 14 points (29-15) early into the second half. Mercer closed to 43-39 but Tennessee reclaimed the momentum. Richardson opened the rally with a free throw, then Baulkman scored the Vols’ next seven points, bumping the lead to 51-40. The first three points came on a trey from the left corner, the next two on a steal and drive, the last two on a putback. Robert Hubbs hit an 8-footer from the left side to cap the 10-1 spurt that bumped the lead from 43-39 to 53-40 and basically sealed the deal.
Ike Nwamu drained 9 of 18 shots from the field, including 6 of 11 from 3, and scored 30 of Mercer’s 54 points. The Bears slip to 6-6 on the season.
Richardson chipped in 11 points, 6 assists and 3 steals for the Vols, now 6-4. Hubbs added nine points in 19 relief minutes. Tennessee shot a strong 53.5 percent (23 of 43) from the field and 40 percent (6 of 15) from 3 but allowed Mercer to stay close by committing 16 turnovers. Fortunately for the Vols, their defense was tough during the times when the offense was absent.
“Our offense hasn’t been there a bunch this year,” Tyndall quipped.