The catalyst

The catalyst

If the other Tennessee basketball players responded as well as Stanley Asumnu to being benched, Coach Bruce Pearl might be tempted to bench ‘em all.

Since losing his starting spot to fellow senior Andre Patterson four games ago, Asumnu has played his best basketball as a Vol. The latest example was a 14-point performance (on 7-of-9 shooting) in just 15 minutes of action Saturday vs. Ole Miss.

His stats for the past four games include a 10.8 scoring average, a sizzling 60.6 shooting percentage (20 of 33) and just one turnover in 69 minutes. What his stat line doesn't show is that Stanley has become a catalyst whose insertion into the lineup often coincides with a momentum-shifting Vol spurt.

Pearl says that's largely because Asumnu is a superior defender and "at the time he's coming in we're always pressing."

In Game 18 vs. Vanderbilt, Asumnu entered the lineup with UT trailing 7-4 after four minutes. He promptly hit a 15-footer, turned a spectacular dunk into a three-point play, then stole an inbounds pass that led to another UT bucket. All told, he scored five points and set up two more in an 8-0 run that turned the three-point deficit into a five-point lead.

Asumnu was at it again in Game 19 vs. Ole Miss. With UT leading 31-19, he scored on a six-footer and a driving dunk to spark a 10-3 spurt that padded the lead to 41-22. Then, when the Rebels closed to 71-59 with 5:12 to go, it was Stanley who recorded two baskets and a steal to spark a 10-0 run that put the game on ice.

"Stanley Asumnu really made some big plays in the second half that kept Ole Miss at bay," Pearl noted. "He has been so productive these last three or four games. He's played a little bit less but he's played a lot better. Like I said before, Stanley's playing his way to the bench."

The obvious question: Why is the 6-5, 215-pound Asumnu more productive as a reserve than as a starter?

"He comes in when the other guys are a little fatigued," Pearl said. "He's fresh and his athleticism really stands out. At the time in the game when I like to press more – at the very beginning of games – he's one of our best in that area."

Rather than pout about losing his first-team job, Asumnu has embraced the new role and, in the process, made Tennessee an even better basketball team. The Vols are 4-0 with him coming off the bench.

"I just try to bring it," he said. "I don't know how long I'm going to be in there, so I just try to bring it day in and day out – be that energy guy, bringing a spark on offense or defense. This is my last year here. This is what I want to look back on … know that I finished strong."

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