Cameron Tatum had some advice for Tennessee teammate Trae Golden following Monday night's game with visiting Chattanooga:
"Maybe he needs to have nasal surgery a few days before every game."
Three days removed from surgery to repair a broken nose, Golden matched his career high with 29 points in leading the Vols to a 76-63 victory before an announced crowd of 15,239 at Thompson-Boling Arena. Winning for the fourth time in a row, Tennessee improves to 7-6. Chattanooga slips to 6-9.
Golden drained 11 of 17 shots — four of them 3-pointers — and went 3 for 3 from the foul line in matching the point total he achieved in the 2011-12 opener versus UNC Greensboro. The 6-foot-1 sophomore dished out 3 assists but also made 3 turnovers.
"Trae played outstanding," Tatum said. "He's our head, our point guard, and we really look forward to him getting us going, especially in transition. I think he does a great job of scoring the ball and making the right pass."
Clearly, the surgical procedure Golden underwent last Friday wasn't much of a hindrance. After sitting out Friday's workout, he was practicing on Saturday and shooting better than ever on Monday.
"I had a little bit of difficulty breathing the first couple of days," he conceded. "But it got better as time went on."
So did Tennessee's 3-point shooting. The Vols made just 3 of their first 15 attempts Monday night and fell behind by seven points. Instead of chastising his players, head coach Cuonzo Martin urged them to keep firing. That's because Chattanooga was double-teaming the post and daring Tennessee to score from beyond the arc.
The Vols happily took the dare, and finally found their strokes. Golden (14) and Skylar McBee (12) accounted for all but two Tennessee points in a 28-7 explosion that turned a 16-23 deficit into a 44-30 lead with 20 seconds left to halftime. McBee hit 4 of 5 shots from 3 during that five-minute outburst and Golden 2 of 2.
The Moccasins trimmed a 44-32 halftime deficit to five (46-41) but Jordan McRae hit a 3-pointer, two foul shots and a 5-footer in the lane to spark a 10-3 spurt that padded the lead to 56-45. Chattanooga never got closer than eight points again.
Tennessee shot just 39.7 percent from the field but finished at 33.3 percent (13 of 39) from 3-point range.
"Out of the 39 3-pointers, I think 35 were pretty good shots," Martin said. "You have to be able to take (outside) shots. They double the post, so you're swinging the ball on the perimeter and having an opportunity to score the ball."
McBee finished 5 of 11 from 3-point range en route to a career-high 16 points. Golden went 4 of 9 from beyond the arc. Whereas Golden and McBee were relatively hot Monday night, Tatum was ice cold, sinking just 3 of 16 field-goal tries. Illustrating Martin's directive that a player not let his shooting affect the rest of his game, however, the senior wing recorded 8 rebounds and a game-high 6 assists with zero turnovers.
"Coach did a good job of just staying in my ear, just saying, 'Keep playing. Don't worry about it. We know you can shoot.' It was just one of those nights; everybody has 'em," Tatum said. "I just tried to make sure I still contributed to the team. I didn't want to just be out there being a dead weight."
The big story on this night, however, was the return of Trae Golden. After hitting double figures in each of Tennessee's first seven games, he slumped badly in Games 8, 9 and 10, going just 6 of 25 from the field (2 of 13 from 3). Worse, when his shot wasn't falling, he tended to press and get out of control. He has made 20 of 33 shots over the past three games, however, and appears to be finding that fine line between playing aggressively and playing wildly.
"It's tough for me because I'm one of those players that I always feel like I can hit the shot," he explained. "I'll walk across halfcourt and be thinking maybe I can shoot it. It's just a matter of studying the game, understanding your position, understanding what's a good shot and what's not a good shot."
Golden averaged 29 points per game as a senior shooting guard in high school, so he is still learning to temper his eagerness to score with a willingness to set up his teammates. He believes he is improving steadily in this area.
"I always have to pick Coach Martin's brain and know what he wants me to do because I'm an extension of him on the court," Golden said. "He gives me leeway but I still have to understand what we have to carry out on the court, so that's something I have to really work on."
The work paid off Monday night, especially for a guy three days removed from surgery. The injured nose didn't seem to bother him at all.
"No, it didn't," he said. "I'm on a lot of medicines, so it's better."
Based on Golden's play versus Chattanooga, maybe all of the Vols need a dose of those medicines.