Memphis and Tennessee lived up to their preseason projections Wednesday night at Fed-Ex Forum, which probably was the worst thing that could've happened to the Vols.
Looking much as the No. 8 team in America is supposed to, the Tigers rolled to a 69-51 beat-down of the Vols, who looked every bit the part of the No. 11 team in the SEC.
Memphis, winning for the third time in a row, improves to 9-5. Tennessee falls to 7-7 after seeing a four-game winning streak snapped emphatically.
The Vols led 2-0 and 10-9, then Memphis took control, using a 19-10 spurt to build a 28-20 halftime lead. The Vols managed to hang around — trailing just 49-39 with six minutes left — before mysteriously wilting. The Tigers shredded Tennessee's defense for layups, wide-open 3s and free-throw opportunities during a 16-4 explosion that widened the gap to 65-43 with 2:46 to play.
Seemingly getting to the rim at will in the second half, Memphis outscored Tennessee 38-22 on points in the paint.
"When you struggle to get points, all of a sudden your offense becomes stagnant and, next thing you know, it takes a toll on the other side of the ball," Vol head coach Cuonzo Martin said on the post-game show. "We broke down in the second half with ball screens and let those guys turn 'em down and get to the rim."
Finding bright spots for Tennessee would be a real challenge. Point guard Trae Golden scored 22 points but also committed a season-high 5 turnovers. Power forward Jeronne Maymon, who produced 32 points and 20 rebounds in the earlier meeting at the Maui Invitational, hit just 4 of 15 shots en route to a 9-point, 9-rebound outing this time.
Antonio Barton scored 19 points for Memphis. Center Tarik Black hit 7 of 8 shots (most of them dunks) in contributing 18 points and 7 rebounds for the Tigers.
"I thought Black had one of his better games all season — being aggressive, attacking the rim, scoring the ball around the basket," Martin said. "I thought he was very aggressive and a very physical presence tonight."
Will Barton, a 6-foot-6 guard who burned Tennessee for 25 points in the earlier meeting, missed the rematch's opening minutes as penance for a violation of team rules and managed just 10 points.
Basically, Memphis dominated in all phases of play. The Tigers outshot the Vols 47.2 percent to 36.2 percent from the field, outshot them 31.3 percent to 23.8 percent from 3 and outrebounded them 36-26. Starting center Kenny Hall did not record a rebound in 20 minutes of action for Tennessee as the Tigers crashed the boards.
The Vols went just 4 of 7 from the foul line after hitting 30 of 37 in the Nov. 22 meeting. They also committed 15 turnovers against just 10 assists.
"We have to do a better job of taking care of the ball," Martin said. "They took a couple of balls away from our guys just handling the ball. You've got to be strong with the ball; that shouldn't happen."
Memphis routinely double-teamed Golden after made baskets, forcing someone other than the Vols' sophomore point guard to bring the ball upcourt. Martin said this ploy should not have disrupted Tennessee's offense to the extent that it seemed to.
"When that happens, Jeronne brings it up and we have our wings to score and our big guy (Hall) down there," the coach said. "We feel like we have an advantage when they're playing like that. We just didn't make shots on the perimeter."
He got that right. Vol wings struggled mightily as Cameron Tatum (2-6), Jordan McRae (1-4), Skylar McBee (0-5) and Josh Richardson (1-5) combined to sink just 4 of 20 shots. The quartet was 1 for 11 from beyond the 3-point arc. McBee, the SEC's third-ranked 3-point shooter at 46.2 percent coming in, went 0 for 4.
Mid-term freshman Jarnell Stokes, who signed with UT after graduating from Memphis Southwind High School last month, has been approved by the NCAA Eligibility Center and sat on the Vol bench Wednesday night. He is now eligible to practice with Tennessee and should be able to play in Saturday's SEC opener versus Florida, pending approval from the SEC office. Saturday's tipoff is set for 11 a.m.