On your mark.
Tennessee unleashed a morale-busting offensive juggernaut on Virginia, streaking to a 22-point halftime lead, and continued to hammer away in an 87-52 dismantling of the Cavaliers before 16,142 appreciative fans Monday night at Thompson-Boling Arena.
In their most impressive game of the season – one game shy of the Southeastern Conference opener at LSU – the Vols (8-4) appeared to be shooting at a 2-foot wide hoop in the opening 20 minutes when they buried the Cavaliers in a game televised by ESPNU.
Virginia came into the game allowing only 54.2 points per game. Tennessee was within reach of that number with 48 first-half points, the most allowed by the Cavaliers in 118 games. The last time Virginia gave up more points in the opening half was on Nov. 22, 2010 when Washington put up 55.
“You have to be very aggressive and attack against a great defensive team,” Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin said in postgame remarks posted on the university’s athletic website. “When Jarnell (Stokes) and Jeronne (Maymon) are scoring and active around the rim, we are a tough team to defend.”
It was Tennessee’s most one-sided victory in the Martin era, bettering a 39-point win over The Citadel (105-66) on Nov. 20, 2009.
“It is not about trying to score 100 points to embarrass an opponent,” Martin said. “With a team like (Virginia) you want to speed them up as well as they play defense. (Offensively) they can move the ball and take time off the clock and they grind you out. If you are not physically ready to defend for 25-26 seconds it can be a long night.”
Josh Richardson scored 15 points in the first half and was perfect from the floor, hitting 6 of 6 field goals, including 3 of 3 from 3-point distance.
Wooden Award candidate Jordan McRae and Antonio Barton each had 11 points at the break at which time Tennessee had more points (48) than Virginia scored in a 46-38 win over the Vols last season in Charlottesville, Va.
That trio combined to hit 12 of 13 field goals and 7 of 9 on 3s.
In the first 20 minutes Tennessee humiliated the Cavaliers (9-4), one of the top defensive teams in the country, by shooting 58 percent (15 of 26) and an eye-popping 73 percent (8 of 11) behind the 3-point arc.
McRae finished with a game-high 21 points.
Richardson and Jarnell Stokes each scored 20 points and Barton closed with 14.
“Everybody was on tonight,” McRae said. “If we have games like that, we’re almost impossible to beat.”
The shooting lines for the four Vols in double figures:
McRae: 6 of 10 field goals, 3 of 4 on 3s, 6 of 6 free throws.
Richardson: 8 of 9 field goals, 4 of 4 on 3s.
Stokes: 4 of 10 field goals, 12 of 14 free throws (career best).
Barton: 5 of 6 field goals, 3 of 4 on 3s.
“It got to the point when I shot a 3,” Richardson said, “I was just running back on defense. I felt like if I threw it up there it was going in. I was making them tonight.”
The Vols collectively hit 27 of 54 shots (50 percent), 11 of 18 3-pointers (61 percent) and 22 of 25 free throws (88 percent) – Virginia had averaged allowing opponents nine free throws coming into Monday’s game.
“Sure, they were hot,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said, “but we were disjointed. We looked slow, we looked tired, we looked delayed in our reactions. Every mistake we made they capitalized on.”
Tennessee committed just six turnovers.
Justin Anderson led the Cavaliers with 11 points on 4 of 11 shooting. Mike Tobey had 10 points and was 5 of 10 from the floor.
Virginia took one more shot than Tennessee, but connected only 18 times for 32.7 percent. The Cavs were 2 of 12 on 3-pointers and 14 of 17 from the charity stripe.
Virginia, 0-3 in Knoxville, quickly fell behind 13-4 when McRae hit a long 3.
Tennessee’s next score came on a 3 by Richardson, making his 45th straight start.
Richardson then hit a layup and Robert Hubbs III and Richardson drilled 3s to extend Tennessee’s lead to 27-10 with 10:51 left in the opening half.
Richardson made his first five shots of the game, including three 3s.
After Virginia scored three straight points, Barton hit a 3, McRae dropped in two free throws, Barton made a fastbreak layup and McRae hit two freebies and the Vols were up 36-13.
As if the Vols’ performance wasn’t scintillating enough, Virginia’s Joe Harris drained a 3 with 3.2 seconds left in the half, but Barton caught the inbounds pass, dribbled to one step into the front court and ripped a 3-point bomb at the buzzer to send Tennessee into the locker room leading by 22 points.
“As it kept going,” Barton said of the half-court shot at the buzzer, “I was like, ‘OK, this thing has a chance of going in.' It went in clean.”
The 48 first-half points were the most by the hot-shooting Vols since last season when they had a 50-26 lead over Kentucky.
“We couldn’t miss,” Barton said.
The Cavaliers got four points to start the second half, but the Vols, showing no sign of losing their shooting touch after the break, went on a 14-6 to push the margin to 62-36 with 12:23 left – biggest margin of the game.
Virginia – its previous three losses were by a combined 16 points -- trimmed seven points off the deficit, but Tennessee outscored the Cavs 15-2 for a 77-45 lead with 6:16 on the clock.
Tennessee starters scored 79 of the team’s first 82 points.
“They separated quick and we couldn’t reel it back in,” Bennett said. “At the end we were just trying to play some solid basketball and that was a struggle for us too. So that’s humbling.”
To Bennett’s thinking, the primary difference in Monday’s game compared to last year was Maymon joining Stokes – both are 6-foot-8 and 260 pounds – in the Vols’ lineup. That “beef factor” could not be ignored.
“Their model was to draw a line in the sand and dare you to cross it physically,” Bennett said.
The win produced Tennessee’s eighth win in 13 meetings with the Cavaliers. The Vols are now 101-85 against current Atlantic Coast Conference teams.
Tennessee hosts Tusculum College on Saturday at 2 p.m. Three days later the Vols will be in Baton Rouge, La., to face the Tigers in the SEC opener for both teams. That game is scheduled for 7 p.m. and will be televised by ESPN.
Mitchell 2-7 0-0 4, Atkins 0-0 2-2 2, Justin Anderson 4-11 3-5 11, Harris 2-9 2-2, 7, Brogdon 0-5 0-0 0, Jones 0-0, 2-2 2, Mike Tobey 5-10, 0-0 10, Nolte 1-2 4-4 7, Gill 3-4 1-2 7, Perrantes 1-7 0-0 2. Totals 18-55 14-17 57.
Jarnell Stokes 4-10 12-14 20, Maymon 2-6, 2-2 6, Josh Richardson 8-9 4-4 20, Antonio Barton 5-6 1-1 14, Jordan McRae 6-10 6-6 21, Hubbs 1-6 0-0 3 Moore 0-0 0-0 0, Ndiaye 0-0 0-0 0, Thompson 1-1 0-0 2, Davis 0-3 0-0 0, Reese 0-3 1-2 1, Edwards 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 27-54 22-25 85.
Halftime – Tennessee 48-26
3-Point Goals – Virginia 2-12 (Nolte 1-2, Harris 1-4, Perrantes 0-1, Brogdon 0-2, Anderson 0-3), Tennessee 11-18 (Richardson 4-4, McRae 3-4, Barton 3-4, Hubbs 1-2, Davis 0-1, Reese 0-3).
Fouled Out – None.
Rebounds – Virginia 33 (Mitchell 9), Tennessee 35 (Reese 9).
Assists – Virginia 8 (Anderson 2, Brogdon 2, Perrantes 2), Tennessee 18 (McRae 5.
Totals Fouls – Virginia 19, Tennessee 18.
Attendance – 16,142.
(E-mail Larry Fleming at email@example.com)