Tennessee head basketball coach Cuonzo Martin made a call that may have saved his team’s season. However, it wasn’t on the court.
It was made to the SEC league office concerning how one of his best players, Jarnell Stokes, was being officiated.
“It just wasn’t looking right and I wanted it looked at and balanced out,” said Martin following his teams nail-biting victory over Alabama Saturday afternoon.
“My thing is just be fair, whether we’re at home or on the road, let’s just be fair.”
Stokes has averaged just 21 minutes in the Vols’ last three losses. He fouled out in two of the three and totaled just 16 points and 16 rebounds.
“I watch certain things with Jarnell Stokes, when he gets hit, because he has such a strong frame, he’s not moving like most guys, and it’s probably not seen as a foul, but a foul’s a foul,” said Martin.
Martin’s message must have gotten through, because the 6-foot-8, 270-pound sophomore finally got a chance to play his game on Saturday. The Crimson Tide got a heavy dose of Tennessee’s big man, as he logged 35 minutes and registered his seventh career double-double.
“Eighteen rebounds in the game, 15 points, and he was able to stay out of foul trouble today,” said Alabama head coach Anthony Grant. “If he can do that for his team on a consistent basis, obviously this was a physical game today, he’s a huge factor when he’s able to do that.
Stokes’ teammates know what kind of force he can be when he’s out on the court. His biggest problem has just been staying out there.
“He has just been frustrated on how he gets fouled a lot and refs don’t call it,” said guard Jordan McRae. “At the end of the day we are just trying to keep Jarnell going up strong and finishing strong.”
The recently turned 19-year-old has overcome a lot in just his second season as a Volunteer. After losing his frontcourt partner Jeronne Maymon for the season to a red shirt, the Memphis native has been asked to play against double teams for most of the season. Something even he says has been a learning adjustment.
“I knew they would double team me, I think every team has double teamed me,” said Stokes. “But I just wanted to have an impact.”
As for his recent foul issues, Stokes has talked with the coaches and his teammates and is trying to learn from it.
“It’s definitely hard when you go into a game mentally prepped and ready to win and ready to lead your team on and then you get two quick fouls,” said Stokes. “It throws off your rhythm. I have been struggling with that a lot this year.”
Prior to Saturday’s game, the Vols had lost five of six and were staring at last place in the SEC. With the win they improve to 2-4 in the conference and 10-8 overall.
More importantly they got their big man back on track in time for an important stretch run. Tennessee’s next five opponents are a combined 8-14 in the SEC, giving the Vols a chance to climb back into the top half of the conference standings.
More performances like the one they got from Stokes on Saturday would help.
“He played like a monster,” said guard Trae Golden. “I think he is one of the best big men in the country, so that is something he has to play like.”