Tennessee post Jarnell Stokes was so upset by his lack of second-half touches in Saturday’s loss at Missouri that he couldn’t sleep. Frustrated, he telephoned head coach Cuonzo Martin to discuss the failure of Vol teammates to get him the ball.
The call paid major dividends Tuesday night at Thompson-Boling Arena. After getting just seven shots at Missouri – one in the second half – Stokes got enough touches to put up 13 shots Tuesday. He made nine of them en route to scoring 20 points in a 67-48 defeat of Georgia.
Asked why he got so many more touches in this game, Stokes paused thoughtfully before tactfully answering: “Maybe last game. If we didn’t struggle last game I don’t think I would’ve touched the ball like I did today.”
The phone call to Tennessee’s head coach may have played a role in the increased touches, too. Asked to recap his conversation with Martin, Stokes smiled sheepishly and replied: “He basically said that I need to call for the ball more, and, of course, I said, ‘Coach, can you tell ‘em to pass me the ball more?’”
Stokes is not a selfish player but he understands that when he touches the ball he attracts two defenders. That leaves a teammate open if Stokes elects to pass the ball back outside.
“I feel like today when I caught the ball I instilled confidence in the other guys,” Stokes said. “They knew (if closely guarded) I would kick it out. That makes us a deadly team.”
Senior wing Jordan McRae was hitting against Missouri and wound up scoring 31 points. That was part of the reason Stokes got so few second-half touches on Saturday. Without mentioning McRae by name, Stokes touched on the need for more balance.
“It’s tough if another guy gets going like that; you think he’s going to hit every shot, and it comes back to bite us,” Stokes said. “You have to have a lot of people in the offense … a lot of fluidity in the offense, as far as other guys being able to score. Just have a balance. I think that’s what we had today.”
After launching a season-high 23 shots at Missouri, McRae attempted a season-low five shots Tuesday night. The 13 attempts Stokes put up against Georgia represented his fourth-highest total of the year. He tried 17 in Game 2 against South Carolina Upstate, 14 on Dec. 7 against Tennessee Tech and 14 again on Jan. 7 at LSU. Still, he insists his frustration at Missouri was not based on getting just seven shots.
“It wasn’t shots; it was looks,” he said. “I’m also looking for my teammates. I don’t want anyone saying that I did a good job scoring the ball. I want you to say I did a good job creating offense for the rest of my team.”
He certainly did that Tuesday night. In addition to 20 points, Stokes dished out 3 assists, tying for the team high in that category. He also grabbed 11 rebounds in posting his 15th double-double of the season and 33rd of his career.
After losing three of its previous four games, Tennessee’s psyche was a concern heading into Tuesday night. The Vols struggled for 17 minutes but scored the last six points of the half, turning a 28-all tie into a 34-28 lead at the break.
They tightened their defense in the second half, limiting Georgia to 25 percent (6 of 24). Leading just 38-35, Tennessee put together a 19-8 run that widened the gap to 14 points (57-43) with 7:59 remaining. Backup point guard Antonio Barton hit two key 3-pointers to spark the spurt.
Tennessee continued pulling away down the stretch, and the final score was the Vols’ largest margin of the night. The Big Orange wound up shooting 47.2 percent (25 of 53) from the field, including 33.3 percent (6 of 18) from 3. Georgia finished at 34.0 percent (17 of 50) from the field and 46.2 percent (6 of 13) from 3. Tennessee won the backboards 37-30.
Kenny Gaines scored 13 points and J.J. Frazier 12 for Georgia, which slips to 14-11 overall and 8-5 in SEC play. Barton added 12 points for Tennessee, now 16-10 overall and 7-6 in league action. McRae chipped in 11 and Josh Richardson 10.
The big story for the Vols, however, was Jarnell Stokes. Asked if the key to this game was getting the 6-foot-8, 260-pounder the ball, Martin replied, “The key is always to get him the ball.”
Cuonzo Martin, per the university