After losing to UTEP in the opening round of the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament last week, many Vols met after the game to discuss ways to improve. “It really helped. It refocused us,” said senior power forward Jeronne Maymon. The Vols then won the final two games of the tournament, avenging an earlier loss to Xavier, and picking up a victory against Wake Forest.
Jarnell Stokes said that the team is starting to understand that they play better when they’re playing through himself and Maymon first. This inside-out philosophy has been preached throughout Martin’s tenure as head coach. According to Stokes, Coach Cuonzo Martin placed a greater emphasis on getting the ball inside after the loss to UTEP.
Jordan McRae has been the primary scorer for the past year, and while that is expected to continue, the Vols will look to get more offense from the post. “If Jarnell and Jeronne are scoring around the rim, making free throws, we’re a tough team to beat because our offense flows better,” Martin said before Wednesday’s practice.
Stokes has been a much-improved free throw shooter this season. He attributed some of the improvement to an offseason adjustment of his off-hand when shooting free throws. Cuonzo Martin noted that the adjustment has helped Stokes’ free throws be more consistent. Last season, Stokes would change his routine and his shot when his free throws weren’t falling, said Martin.
The importance of inside scoring was a mindset adjustment for Stokes as well. Coming in to games early this season, Stokes said his mindset was to rebound and to let McRae do most of the scoring. Stokes is now looking to be more of a complement to McRae’s scoring.
Maymon noted that he thought Stokes had upped his focused level for the final two games, where Stokes averaged 20.5 points and 10 rebounds. “He’s been more aggressive offensively and defensively, and that’s really benefited us,” said Maymon.
The Vols showed off a shortened rotation in the Bahamas, relying primarily on eight players, the five starters (Barton, McRae, Richardson, Maymon, and Stokes) and the three freshmen (Hubbs, Thompson and Davis). If Maymon and Stokes aren’t playing well, the rotation could expand to nine, said Martin.
Armani Moore is currently the ninth man in the rotation, and is the one guy that Martin said has the best chance to crack the rotation on a more consistent basis. Jarnell Stokes likened Moore’s potential role to an NBA player from his hometown of Memphis, Grizzlies shooting guard Tony Allen. Allen, nicknamed the “Grindfather,” is known for his perimeter defense and athleticism, but lacks a polished offensive game.
Coach Martin said that Moore needs to improve his finishing around the basket in games to earn more minutes.
The Vols play just two games in two weeks due to Final exams. The Vols play Tennessee Tech at home this Saturday, and then at undefeated, 12th ranked Wichita State a week later. The Vols look at December and January as important months to pick up big non-conference wins that will help their resume come March.
Written by: Riley Duncan