Stanley's starring

Chris Lofton contributed 23 points, 5 rebounds and 5 steals. Andre Patterson recorded a double-double (13 points, 12 rebounds). C.J. Watson produced 11 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals in 33 turnover-free minutes at the point. Still, Tennessee's MVP in Saturday night's 81-65 defeat of South Carolina may have been reserve Stanley Asumnu.

Ten minutes into the game Tennessee trailed 22-15, mostly because the Vols were standing around too much against South Carolina's zone defense. That's when Asumnu – who NEVER stands around – came off the bench and invigorated the Big Orange.

A driving eight-footer from in front and a spectacular transition dunk sparked a 10-0 spurt that turned the seven-point deficit into a three-point lead. Then, with a minute left to halftime, he made a nifty assist to Patterson (the guy who took his starting spot two games ago) for a layup that widened the gap to 31-26.

Asumnu's first-half line showed 6 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists and a steal in 11 game-changing minutes.

"That's just me trying to do whatever I can do to help this team win," he said of the emotional lift he provided. "Whether I'm starting or coming off the bench – whatever Coach Pearl decides – I'm just going to continue to play hard on both ends of the floor."

Stanley wasn't finished, however. It was his dynamic dunk on a crowd-pleasing alley oop from JaJuan Smith that padded the lead to 10 (47-37) early in the second half. And it was Stanley who, after Carolina crept within 53-49 with nine minutes left, scored on a hanging six-footer to ignite a 10-3 spurt that stemmed the Gamecock rally.

"Stanley Asumnu responded coming off the bench and played extremely productively," UT head coach Bruce Pearl said.

Asumnu finished with 10 points, 4 rebounds and 4 assists in 17 minutes. In the two games since he was benched he produced 22 points, 8 rebounds and 5 assists. Moreover, he played 37 minutes without a turnover. Clearly, he has responded brilliantly to his new role.

"Stanley's an incredibly focused person and very, very proud," Pearl said. "He would like to be starting. He was starting the whole season up until the last couple of ball games."

The Vol coach finds Asumnu's reaction to his recent demotion very encouraging.

"These things don't build character; they REVEAL character," Pearl said. "What you're seeing is Stanley Asumnu's character, front and center. He's focused on defense, rebounding the ball, not turning it over, shooting a high percentage and being productive. He's doing great."

Although losing his starting job hurt, Asumnu says he is OK with playing a relief role.

"It really doesn't matter to me," he said. "I feel the same way, whether I'm starting or coming off the bench. My main thing is to come in there and try to provide something on both ends of the floor, contribute and try to help my team win the ballgame."


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