KNOXVILLE -- Trae Golden wasn't surprised.
Neither was Jordan McRae.
More than three minutes into Tennessee's basketball exhibition opener Thursday night against Carson-Newman at Thompson-Boling Arena, the Volunteers had six missed shots from the field, four clanked free throws and no points.
"I kind of figured that something that was going to happen," Golden said after the Vols eventually pulled away for a 73-52 win, "because we wanted to show everybody what we're about and make sure everybody knows we can do things, so I think everybody was just a little anxious."
UT trailed by as many as six in the first half against the Division II Eagles from nearby Jefferson City, Tenn., before McRae, the wiry sophomore wing who scored a game-high 17 points, poured in 12 straight during a 14-2 run. Golden, the sophomore point guard, scored six of his 14 points in a 11-0 run to close the first half.
"It doesn't discourage me one bit," new UT coach Cuonzo Martin said of the slow start. "I think we probably shot a couple of of quick shots. The first game, guys are excited to play, you try to play a lot of guys. If we defend at the level we [should] defend at and shots aren't falling, we're still in the ballgame. But if we're not defending and the shots aren't falling, it's going to be a long night for us."
The shots weren't falling for most of the night: UT shot just 36 percent (21-of-58) for the game. With the Eagles packing things in with a 2-3 zone defense, the Vols shot 31 3-pointers.
"I think the thing that caught our guys off guard was the zone the whole game," Martin said. "Even though you practice it, we don't practice it at that level because we don't play a zone. To see a zone the whole game was an adjustment for our guys and myself. I thought it was the best thing for our team to go through, because when you go against the zone, you have to find your spots, you have to look for shots, you can't run as many plays."
But UT held Carson-Newman to just four field goals in the second half and 31 percent shooting for the game. That earned the Vols a C-plus grade from their coach, who preaches defense first, second and third.
Ish Sanders from Cleveland High scored seven points on 3-of-14 shooting for Carson-Newman, which was led by 13 points from Antoine Davis.
"I'm not the coach, but I thought we played pretty good D," McRae said with a smile. "I think tomorrow practice is going to be a heavy defensive practice. I know he's not pleased. We're going to have to keep working on it and not let anything else get in the way of what we do."
Jeronne Maymon double-doubled for the Vols, grabbing 15 rebounds, including seven offensive, to go with his 10 points.
"I always like going down 'in the trenches,' as the coach would call it, with the big guys," said the 6-foot-7 junior. "I've always been a good rebounder, so I'm just trying to keep that going."
UT's starting five of Golden, McRae, Maymon, Cameron Tatum and Kenny Hall and bench players Josh Richardson, Renaldo Woolridge, Wes Washpun and Skylar McBee played double-digit minutes. Martin has said he likes to keep his rotation to eight or nine players. UT's second exhibition is Monday night against Lincoln Memorial, and the Vols start the season a week from today against UNC Greensboro.
"We obviously have a long want to go," Maymon said. "We had a lot of offensive breakdowns. A lot of people weren't in their spots or where they need to be, but it's going to get better."
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...