Like he had drawn it up himself with the marker and clipboard, Jordan McRae orchastrated the play perfectly.
With the Vols’ 72-45 win over Missouri entering its final stages late in the second half, Tennessee’s decorated senior guard had one last opportunity to entertain the home crowd before checking out for good on Senior Day.
“I just told Darius (Thompson) the play before, 'If you get the rebound, I'm out of there,'" McRae said.
Following a Tiger miss, he got the chance he had oh so perfectly predicted.
Thompson snatched the defensive rebound and flung the ball to a wide open McRae, who in transition threw down an emphatic reverse jam—his final field goal of his illustrious home career.
“It just happened exactly how I just told him," McRae said. “I was planning to do something, but with (the Tigers’ Jabari Brown) running that fast behind me, that's all I could get done.”
The play was more than a sufficient exit, and his fellow seniors agreed. Jerrone Maymon was the first to greet McRae as the two celebrated under the basket with a nifty personalized handshake — each donning an enormous smile.
A TV timeout ensued, and the UT bench erupted, his teammates pouring onto the court in a congratulatory fashion.
The first to greet him though?
Fellow seniors Antonio Barton and D’Montre Edwards, who both engulfed the Midway, Ga., native with celebratory hugs.
“Well the thing I talked to the guys about is just ride the waves of (Senior Day),” UT head coach Cuonzo Martin said. "The emotions — it's senior night — it is what it is you can't control that. But try to maintain a level of focus, relentless focus, and just let that energy drive you.”
And it did.
McRae scored only 11 points, but six of those came in the game’s first 3 1/2 minutes, helping the Vols (20-11, 11-7 SEC) pounce on Missouri (21-10, 9-9) early and cruise to the Senior Day win.
His first field goal of the afternoon — a two-handed dunk that ignited the 18,519 in attendance — came the same way his last basket did.
And in McRae's mind, there couldn't have been a better exit strategy.
“Going out on a dunk,” McRae said, “you know — that’s the way you got to go out.”
For Barton, his final goodbye was headlined by a third-straight shooting clinic as he continued his torrid stretch from deep, pouring in a team-high 16 points with four 3-pointers.
“It was just overwhelming,” Barton said. “To come out and get a win, see the fans clap for you on senior night, just to be here in this organization is wonderful right now.”
The man who transferred from Memphis before the start of the season said wearing orange on Senior Day wasn’t in his wildest dreams.
“You told me this three years ago I would never thought I’d be here seeing that,” Barton said. “This was my rival school, but everything happens for a reason and I’m glad it happened."
In Maymon’s case, the afternoon served as a metaphorical slideshow, mentally recapping his UT career that’s taken a variety of paths — both positive and negative.
“It was kind of like a reel going off in my head, said Maymon, who scored only four points but tied a team-high with 10 rebounds. “All the good times and bad times I have had in Tennessee uniform.
"It was just a really good time.”
Even Edwards, who hasn’t played much all season and was initially ruled out for Saturday’s contest with a knee injury, toughed it out in the final minutes and made a surprise late game appearance.
In the days leading up to Saturday’s contest, all four played down the emotional aspects that came with Senior Day, choosing to promote the game’s monumental impact on the Vols season rather than each’s career.
Afterwards, though, with the 27-point drubbing at their backs, the responses to various Senior Day inquires carried a different tone.
What coach was talking about before the game was 'ride the wave,’ Maymon said. “Let the emotions flow…We went out there and we started the game like we finished it."
Added Barton: “It means a lot. Just to see the support and it being my first year here. I love every moment of it.”