Tennessee's Trae Golden rolled his ankle and missed 12 minutes of Wednesday night's game with Arkansas. It was nothing, however, compared to the damage he inflicted on the Razorbacks during the 28 minutes he did play.
Basically, he turned the Hogs into shredded pork.
With Golden slicing up the Arkansas defense with surgical precision, Tennessee drained nine of its first 10 shots and raced to a 23-6 lead with 13:31 left to halftime. At this stage, the Big Orange was on pace to score 138 points. The Vols didn't maintain that pace, of course, but they were never seriously threatened en route to a 77-58 romp before an announced crowd of 16,048 at Thompson-Boling Arena.
Winning its fourth game in a row, Tennessee moves to 14-12 overall and 6-5 in SEC play. Arkansas slips to 17-9 and 5-6. Six Vols scored in double figures, yet their head coach had no difficulty identifying the player of the game.
"Even though a lot of guys are playing well, our success kind of starts with Trae Golden," Cuonzo Martin said. "He's done a really good job of taking that leadership role as a point guard — guiding guys, directing traffic, making good decisions, running the offense — and it's good to see that work."
For a guy regularly criticized on talk radio and message boards for not being "a natural point guard," Golden looked pretty natural Wednesday night. He assisted Jeronne Maymon for a layup, assisted Jarnell Stokes for a dunk, then assisted Maymon for two more layups — all in the game's first four minutes.
"Trae did a great job of getting in the lane and finding guys," Martin said. "He's really done a good job of dribble-penetration, not settling for 3-point shots, finding our shooters and really putting pressure on the defense. When he's doing that and guys are making shots, we're tough to guard."
Indeed. When Arkansas clogged the lane to try and limit Golden's penetrations, he drained a 3-pointer that widened the gap to 18-6. His fifth assist of the half set up a 3-pointer by Jordan McRae that bumped the lead to 20 points (43-23) with 5:02 left to the break. Moments later a putback by Stokes produced Tennessee's biggest bulge at 47-23.
Arkansas scored the last seven points of the half, however, and continued chipping away in the second half. With Golden on the bench nursing his injured ankle and the Hogs playing a pesky zone defense, the lead eventually dwindled to 60-50.
Golden limped back into the lineup, however, and shortly thereafter assisted on a 3-pointer by Skylar McBee that ignited a 14-3 spurt, padding the lead to 74-53 and sealing the deal.
"Trae Golden penetrated and got Skylar a 3-point shot," Martin said. "I thought that was really the difference against the zone. We started attacking the middle."
McRae came off the bench to lead the Vols with 14 points. Golden chipped in 13. McBee, hitting 4 of 7 shots for the third game in a row, contributed 12 points, as did Maymon. Cameron Tatum scored 11 and Stokes 10. Golden also contributed a game-high 7 assists. Maymon, the beneficiary on four of Golden's assists, praised his teammate's vision and awareness.
"Trae picked apart the defense," Maymon said. "Coach always tells us when we secure a rebound to sprint down the middle of the floor and Trae will find you. That's what he was doing tonight."
Golden's ability to score and set up others makes the muscular 6-foot-1, 196-pound sophomore a real challenge to defend.
"Trae is such a good scoring threat that, when he's penetrating, teams have to sink in and that leaves us (wings) open," Tatum said. "He does a great job of finding guys, and he's a good passer, as well as a good scorer. He's a dual threat, and he's the one that makes our team go."
Golden's ankle injury prevented him from meeting the media after the game but it didn't prevent him from asking to play down the stretch.
"I thought it was a great gesture for him to come back in the game with that rolled ankle," Martin said. "I was going to try to put him back in anyway, just so he could fight through it."
During its current four-game winning streak Tennessee shot 45.2 percent against Georgia, 50.0 percent against South Carolina, 48.0 percent at No. 8 Florida and 56.0 percent against Arkansas. It's noteworthy that the Vols drained 47.8 percent of their 3-point tries (11 of 23) against a Razorback team that came in leading the SEC in 3-point defense at 26.3 percent.
"I think the biggest key, once again, is Trae Golden," Martin said. "I think the great teams have good point guards, and he's done a really good job these past four or five games of directing traffic, so I have to give him most of the credit."
Martin said 6-foot-9 junior center Kenny Hall has been suspended indefinitely for "conduct detrimental to the team." Hall, who started 16 of the first 25 games, did not suit up Wednesday and will not accompany the team to Tuscaloosa for Saturday's 1:30 EST tipoff against Alabama, Martin said. Freshman Jarnell Stokes started at center in Hall's absence.
Check out this photo gallery exclusive to InsideTennessee.com: