After capturing their first true road win of the season Sunday afternoon at South Carolina, the Volunteers will try and duplicate the outcome Wednesday night at Vanderbilt.
Head coach Cuonzo Martin noted his team’s ability to make plays in the final minutes of the game in Columbia, S.C., as the reason why they were ability to break through away from Thompson-Boling Arena.
“It comes down to which team makes the most plays,” Martin said. “Which team makes their free throws, and which team does not turn the ball over. We did that.”
On Wednesday night the Vols (12-10, 4-6 SEC) will look to sweep in-state rival Vanderbilt for the season and capture the third-straight win over Kevin Stallings' team.
Tennessee narrowly escaped the Commodores on Jan. 29 in Knoxville, 58-57. Vandy had three chances at the game-winning basket in the final 10 seconds but were unable to get a shot to fall.
“The ball just went our way tonight,” Martin said following the teams' first meeting.
Stopping Vanderbilt’s leading scorer, Kedren Johnson (14.2 points per game), is key to having a successful trip to Middle Tennessee on Wednesday.
"He will have opportunities to penetrate, because of the Princeton-style offense they run they have shooters out there. The key is that he has to shoot jump shots over you,” Martin said. “If Josh (Richardson) and Jordan (McRae) and those guys defend him than opposed to him having angles to laying the ball up and putting our big guys in potential foul situations."
Johnson tallied 14 points in the previous contest.
The Tennessee players recognize that stopping Johnson is first priority on the defensive end.
“It’s a huge deal,” Trae Golden said. “He’s a great player so we’re going to have to make sure (they) do stay in front of him. That’s something we’re definitely going to have to be ready for.”
As in every visit to Memorial Gym, the players and coaches will have to adjust to the unusual layout of the court. Having a point guard who can direct the team from the opposite side of the floor will be important for the Volunteers and their ability to run the offense.
“When you are away from your bench and your coach is not right in your ear you have to be able to direct traffic, call the plays, run the offense and get you where you need to be offensively in order for you to have success on the offensive side of the ball,” Martin said. “I think from that standpoint, being in a unique situation which you have not seen as a basketball player you have to have leadership on the floor to get you over the hump in that first half, or at least the first ten to fifteen minutes."
In the last meeting Jarnell Stokes led all scorers with 19 points, and it was the second of his current five-game double-double streak.
“I think he’s really demanding the ball,” Golden said. “He’s taking advantage of all of his opportunities and I think that’s the biggest thing.”
Tennessee will lean on Stokes to assert his presence against the Commodores, who lack a dominant post presence of their own.
Golden, who injured his right hamstring against the Commodores, is coming off a 16-point performance, his largest output since Dec. 18 against Presbyterian College — and is starting to return to his pre-injury form.
“I’m still hurt,” Golden said. “It will probably hurt for the remainder of the season but I’m OK to play with it.”
Tip-off is set for 8 p.m., and the game will be aired on the SEC Network.