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January 9, 2013

Rebs backcourt taxes Vols in SEC opener

Time and again, Cuonzo Martin boiled down his Tennessee team's porous defense Wednesday night against visiting Ole Miss to simple pride in the task at hand.

Junior wing Jordan McRae took it a step further: he called the team's performance embarrassing in a humbling, 92-74 loss to the visiting Rebels before 17,059 fans inside Thompson-Boling Arena.

Ole Miss (12-2, 1-0) set records for free throws attempted (44) and made (38), plus outrebounded Tennessee (8-5, 0-1) by 15, 47-32, in the league opener for both squads.

"I mean honestly it's embarrassing," said McRae, who played his way into the starting lineup and led the Vols with 26 points. "At the end of the game they're laughing and having fun. It's embarrassing."

No player laughed more than the Rebels' Marshall Henderson, who nearly doubled his scoring average with a robust 32 points on 19 field-goal attempts and 14 free throws. Backcourt mate Jarvis Summers added 16 for Ole Miss, which had lost 11-straight games in Knoxville before its first win here since 1991.

Seeing the game slip away, Martin even deployed a rare 2-3 zone defense in an attempt to stifle the Rebels' offensive prowess. Though Tennessee twice trimmed its deficit to six points with more than 12 minutes left in the contest, the Rebels simply found an additional level of offensive play and rolled to the win.

"Well just really trying to get stops," Martin said. "Once again, you have to take pride in keeping the guy in front of you. So just trying something different."

Sophomore forward Jarnell Stokes said the Rebels simply were allowed too much penetration into the lane, where the visitors outscored their hosts 18-5 in the second half alone.

"We didn't keep guys out of the lane. That's pretty much what it came down to, this game and the last game," said Stokes, referencing last Friday's 85-80 home loss to rival Memphis. "Guys were able to drive and get into the paint and that's never good."

Like McRae, Stokes also termed the defeat --- the worst in Martin's first year-and-a-half --- embarrassing.

"I think that was probably one of the most embarrassing here but it's nothing big for us," Stokes, who had a double-double with 15 points and 11 boards in 32 minutes, said. "I think it's just for us at the end of the game keeping guys out of the lane. I think we can trim down taking so many threes. Other than that, we've just got to make shots and keep guys out of the lane."

Added Martin, "It comes down to the simple fact you have to guard your man, keep him in front of you and box out."

Tennessee had allowed an opponent to top 80 points in regulation just once in Martin's first 45 games at the helm but has watched Memphis and Ole Miss combine for 177 points in the Vols' last two games. Martin didn't see a lot of similarities in his team's defensive breakdowns in the back-to-back performances.

"I don't think so. In Memphis' case, transition defense and stopping the ball. In this case, containing the ball at half court," said Martin, whose Vols entered the contest ranked second in the SEC and 35th nationally in scoring defense. "Once again, you've just got to take pride in doing it."

While Stokes said he believed the Vols could win every game left on their schedule and "should win" their next couple of games, McRae said he would gladly assume a lighter scoring load to get Tennessee back on a winning track.

"I'm just trying to be more assertive on the offensive end," said McRae, whose consecutive 26-point outbursts are the most points scored by a Vol in any game this season. "For me it's not really about that. I'd rather go back to eight, nine points and winning."

Martin reiterated a one-game-at-a-time mentality for the Vols pushing ahead.

"We keep playing, you're talking 17 games left, most important is the next game," Martin said. "You go out there every game to compete and play hard --- those are the things we can control."


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