Tag: Jordan McRae

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Tennessee lands a come-from-behind OT win over Iowa in play-in game

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Jordan McRae led four scorers in double figures with 20 points and Jarnell Stokes added 18 points and 13 boards as No. 11 Tennessee overcame a horrendous start and a 12 point first half deficit to beat No. 11 Iowa in the final play-in game on Wednesday night, 78-65, in overtime.

The difference maker for the Vols was actually Josh Richardson, who finally sparked some life into Tennessee when he hit five straight shots in the second half. Richardson scored 13 of his 17 points in the final 15 minutes of regulation, a stretch when it looked like Iowa was getting ready to pull away. He also set up Antonio Barton for a three that gave the Vols the lead.

It was a huge win for head coach Cuonzo Martin, who has been under siege by Tennessee fans unhappy with the team’s performance. There was an online petition circulating to try and get Bruce Pearl hired again that accumulated 36,000 signatures. The angst of the good folks on Knoxville only grew worse when Pearl was hired by Auburn on Tuesday. Hopefully, this win can put some of that to rest.

Tennessee will advance to take on No. 6 UMass in the Round of 64, which is a game that the Vols can win. UMass has a ton of length and athleticism, but they don’t have the kind of bodies in the paint that Tennessee does. Contain star guard Chaz Williams, avoid turnovers and pound the ball into the paint and they’ll have a chance to play on Sunday.

Adam Woodbury led the way for Iowa with 16 points and eight boards as he hit Stokes with every post move that he had in his arsenal. Peter Jok added 10 points off the bench as well. Those two combined to shoot 12-for-16 from the floor. The rest of the Hawkeyes? They shot 28.6% from the field, which included a 3-for-15 night from Roy Devyn Marble, Iowa’s star guard. As a team, they missed their last eight shots and were outscored 14-1 in overtime, ending a season that saw Iowa go just 2-7 in games decided by five points or less and choke away a handful of big leads in marquee games.

Head coach Fran McCaffery got a solid dose of perspective on gameday, however. His son, Patrick, had surgery to remove a thyroid tumor in his neck. On the broadcast on TruTV, McCaffery said that the surgery was believed to be a success.

SEC Tournament: No. 1 Florida advances to title, holds UT to just five second half field goals

Billy Donovan

Florida coach Billy Donovan must have laid into his team at halftime. His Gators were losing to Tennessee by seven points, UF’s largest halftime deficit of the year, and his team was clearly not following the defensive gameplan he and coaching staff had put together for the semifinal contest. Over the next twenty minutes, though, UF, carefully heeding their second defensive tutorial, underwent a transformation, blowing up each of Tennessee’s offensive plays and holding the Vols to just one field goal for half of the second session. The close final score — 56-49 — isn’t indicative of how uncomfortable UF made Cuonzo Martin’s squad look.

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During the initial half, UT was driving the ball at the Gators, getting easy looks at the basket and scoring 1.08 points per possession. The SEC tournament is now defined by tweaks made by its coaches, and after UT made five layups to start the second session, Donovan unleashed a man press that trapped the sidelines, a move which immediately forced a turnover. Donovan next turned his gaze to Jarnell Stokes; the UT big had scored four field goals, physically beasting the Gator frontcourt until Donovan instructed his team to double on the touch, a move which took away the Vols interior. Clearly flustered and unable to assist from the post, Stokes didn’t make another shot from the field.

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The key, though, was Scottie Wilbekin’s defense on Jordan McRae. The wing was seven for 31 in the first two meetings, and since he takes the highest percentage of UT’s attempts, controlling McRae was crucial. He may have finished with 15 points, but Wilbekin managed to consistently have a hand impeding McRae’s vision, staying in front of the UT wing and forcing him to take off-balance shots. Even when Martin used Stokes as a distributor, letting the big flash to the elbow and hand-off to McRae, Antonio Barton, and Josh Richardson, the help supplied by the other four Gators turned each Vol away and forced them to retreat, reset, and then take a low-percentage shot.

Another impressive aspect of Donovan’s tweak was their man-to-man sagging the team displayed over the final twenty minutes. It further took away the paint, and when combined with UF’s help defense, UT’s scoring was locked down.

Recaps of this game will specifically mention the technical received by Jeronne Maymon and his subsequent ejection. Or they will focus on Florida’s overall offensive ineptitude (.91 PPP; Michael Frazier II and Dorian Finney-Smith were a combined two of eight). But the real story is the changes UF made during their break and then the eventual ransacking of every single UT offensive possession.

The Gators’ second half defensive efficiency rate was .52 PPP, a whopping rate that simply underscores Florida’s dominance, which is why this team, even when they can’t find the basket, is a threat to take the national title.

SEC Tournament: Tennessee rides stout defensive effort into semifinals

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Since losing to Texas A&M in overtime on February 27, Tennessee hasn’t trailed at all in five consecutive games. The fifth game was played in the quarterfinals of the SEC tournament, with the Volunteers handling South Carolina 59-44 to set up a semifinal matchup with No. 1 Florida. Jarnell Stokes scored 22 points and grabbed 15 rebounds to lead the way, with guard Jordan McRae adding 14 points.

While the opposition during this five-game run should be noted, with Missouri being the best team the Volunteers played during this stretch, Tennessee’s improved effort and execution on the defensive end should not be ignored. Tennessee allowed its opponent to shoot better than 40% from the field in just one of those five games (Mississippi State shot 42.9%), with South Carolina making just 27.1% of its attempts Friday afternoon.

Tennessee has the length and athleticism to keep teams out of lane, and should the opposition get inside the Volunteers do a good job of challenging those looks. South Carolina finished the game with 18 points in the paint but they couldn’t keep up with Tennessee, which scored 32 points with Stokes doing most of the damage.

How much has Tennessee improved defensively? That question will be answered Saturday, with their game against No. 1 Florida representing both a tremendous challenge and a tremendous opportunity. SEC Player of the Year Scottie Wilbekin has run the show well for the Gators, who swept the regular season series. A key for Tennessee will be rebounding, as Florida grabbed nearly 44% of its missed shots in a 67-58 win on February 11 in Knoxville.

Tennessee has the look of an NCAA tournament team and they should hear their name called on Sunday, but there’s nothing wrong with making another statement (or two) along the way. After taking care of South Carolina, Cuonzo Martin’s team will have the opportunity to do so.