KNOXVILLE — Derek Reese finished what Yemi Makanjuola started.
Just don't expect the box score to show how much of an impact the two unlikely heroes played in Tennessee's second notable nonconference win of the month.
Reese made the go-ahead 3-point shot in his debut, Makanjuola made key plays with his defense and rebounding and Josh Richardson scored 12 points as the Volunteers rallied from a 10-point second-half deficit in a 51-47 win Saturday night against Xavier at Thompson-Boling Arena.
"The second team brought a whole lot of energy to the game," said Richardson, the only Tennessee starter to play more than 24 minutes. "The first guys were a little lackadaisical. Once [coach Cuonzo Martin] mixed it up a little bit, I think it brought a lot of energy to the game."
Reese and Makanjuola brought the most.
A 6-foot-8 wing who can play three positions, Reese completed a comeback from a torn labrum in his right shooting shoulder and made two crucial 3s, the second of which gave the Vols (8-3) a 38-35 lead with 8:14 rest in the game.
"That didn't surprise me at all," Richardson said. "I always knew he could shoot the ball. Nobody really knows who he is, so they don't know he can shoot or do anything."
Martin had no doubts he'd play Reese on Saturday after the freshman was cleared Friday.
"He's a difference-maker," said Tennessee's second-year coach. "Derek can make shots and make plays off the dribble. If you don't have a guy that can do those things, it can become stagnant.
"He's one of the better IQ guys that I've been around for a young guy."
Tennessee hit just one of 14 3-point attempts before Reese's first make, and that was one ingredient of Xavier's 33-23 second-half advantage. The Musketeers (7-5), who have reached the NCAA tournament's second weekend five times in nine seasons, outrebounded Tennessee 29-16 and scored 10 second-chance points on 12 offensive rebounds in the first half.
"I went into the half with our guys and told them: This is probably the first time all season I thought were really got out-toughed," Martin said. "I thought they were the tougher team. They set the tone early, they were physical, they rebounded and they came ready to play.
"Our guys were resilient in the second half."
The Vols used a lineup of four bench players -- Makanjuola, Reese, wing Jordan McRae and walk-on point guard Brandon Lopez -- and Richardson, who played 36 minutes, to spark the comeback. The Vols forced 10 of Xavier's 19 turnovers in the second half. Xavier didn't score during one six-minute stretch and went without a field goal for 10 minutes as the Vols erased their deficit.
Xavier's rebounding advantage shrank to three after halftime, and Makanjuola's eight rebounds in nine minutes -- plus the layup that started Tennessee's decisive 19-3 run -- were a big reason why.
"Whenever our name is called, we have to be ready," said the 6-foot-9 sophomore center from Nigeria. "Sitting on the bench, you have to watch what was missing on the team, so when my name was called, I was ready to go and help the team.
"They had four quick offensive rebounds, which our coach wasn't happy about. I tried to stop that and make sure we didn't give up any quick offensive rebounds anymore. For us being able to bring energy to the team when it was needed, I think that is going to be a plus for the team."
Martin used Makanjuola and Kenny Hall instead of Jarnell Stokes for an 11-minute stretch of the second half and subbed Makanjuola for Stokes on defensive possessions down the stretch.
"Yemi's tough," he said. "Yemi has an IQ of a point guard on the defensive side of the ball. He knows where he's supposed to be.
"He carries out assignments almost like a quarterback on the defensive side of the ball. When he's in there, all that action going on around the paint, it shuts down. If you watch him ... he cleans it all up because he's physical and he knows where he's supposed to be."
After Reese's second trey, Tennessee pushed its lead to six, and McRae's driving layup with 51 seconds left and Trae Golden's five free throws down the stretch closed the win.
The summer injury that surprised and saddened him a distant memory, Reese appeared precisely when Tennessee needed him.
"I had in my mind that I was going to redshirt, but I was still going to push myself to come back to see what I could do," he said. "Coach Martin was always telling me to be ready, just come back as soon as you can, keep working hard every day, and that's what I did. Hard work finally paid off."
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 ...
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