The Tennessee Volunteers entered Tuesday’s matchup with the Georgia Bulldogs squarely on the NCAA bubble. Another SEC loss could seal their fate. Thanks to the strong inside play of Jarnell Stokes, the Volunteers’ bubble did not burst. The Volunteers cruised to an easy 67-48 win over a Georgia team riding a four-game win streak.
If the Volunteers need a map to the NCAA Tournament, then all roads lead through the play of Stokes. After last Saturday’s loss to the Missouri Tigers, where Stokes took one shot in the second half, Cuonzo Martin got the hint. Stokes thoroughly dominated the paint all night against a Georgia frontcourt that has become known for tough defense and rebounding prowess. Mark Fox remarked prior to the game that the Bulldogs were a “tired team” and it certainly showed, especially down low.
Stokes used his big body and quickness to slice through the lane and force his will on the Georgia defense. It was obvious from the beginning that Tennessee’s game plan was to work the ball inside. Whether Georgia tried man-to-man or zone defense, Stokes found a way to get the rim.
As Stokes drew the attention of Bulldog defenders, the perimeter was freed up for the 3-point shooting of Antonio Barton, who finished with 12 points on 4-for-7 shooting from behind the arc. Guards Jordan McRae and Josh Richardson each chipped in 10 points and kept the Georgia backcourt at bay in the second half.
Stokes finished with 20 points and 11 rebounds on 9-for-13 shooting. He also played tough defense, coming up with three blocks and forcing bad shots. The entire Georgia frontcourt scored 18 points combined, and the Volunteers won the rebounding battle 37-30.The Bulldogs are 0-8 when they are out-rebounded, and this night was a disaster in the paint in every fashion for Fox’s team. That cause of that disaster was wearing no. 5.
If Tennessee hopes to find themselves in the Big Dance, Stokes must touch the ball early and often. The offense should be centered around his post game and forcing double-teams so McRae, Barton and Richardson can get open looks. Tuesday’s game was a good look at what Tennessee can do when Stokes is unleashed on the block. Martin has to be pleased with this performance as the regular season winds down and the NCAA selection committee’s big day looms on the horizon.