MEMPHIS — Cuonzo Martin got a win in Memphis last month.
Tennessee's first-year basketball coach was denied a second on Wednesday night.
A sluggish first half offensively and defensive breakdowns throughout doomed the Volunteers on the road against cross-state rival Memphis, as the Tigers won 69-51 at FedExForum for their second win against UT this season.
"We weren't hitting shots," said UT point guard Trae Golden, who led the Vols with 22 points on eight-of-14 shooting. "It's so tough as a player for you to focus in on defense. That's something that we've got to really do. We were shooting shots we weren't used to shooting, missing shots and it affected our defense."
The Tigers scored 11 of the final 16 points in the first half for a 28-20 halftime lead. UT (7-7) shot just 30 percent from the field and had nine less rebounds than Memphis. After staying within striking distance early in the second half, Memphis (9-5) slowly pulled away, its lead ballooning to as much as 22 points.
"I think our guys did a really good job in the first half of defending," Martin said. "I think what it came down to is you have to be able to put points on the board. [Memphis] did a good job of defending us, and what happens is you're defending, you're defending, you're struggling and all of the sudden [the deficit] goes to seven, nine, 11 and 13."
In just eight months as UT's coach, Martin managed to pluck five-star forward Jarnell Stokes from the Tigers' back yard. The 6-foot-8 Stokes, who announced his decision three days before Christmas, sat behind UT's bench on Wednesday. After he was ruled ineligible to play his senior season by the TSSAA following a transfer, Stokes will enroll at UT in January.
The Vols got good news before the game, however, when Stokes cleared the NCAA eligibility center process. He's eligible to begin practicing, but he must go through a review process with the Southeastern Conference before he's eligible to play, which, according to a UT official, could happen within the next few days.
"When he's cleared, and then when we feel like he's ready to play, more than anything" Martin said of how soon Stokes could suit up. "We've got to make sure he's healthy and ready to go."
UT could have used Stokes against Memphis' Tarik Black. The 6-8, 243-pound bruiser missed just one shot from the field and finished with 18 points and seven rebounds. Antonio (19) and Will (10) Barton each scored in double figures for the Tigers, who finished with a 36-26 advantage on the boards and a 38-22 advantage on points in the paint.
"We did a good job on the glass," Memphis coach Josh Pastner said. "They didn't get second or third chances. Everybody came in and was terrific and contributed."
Jeronne Maymon, who had 32 points and 20 rebounds in UT's two-point, double-overtime loss to Memphis in the Maui Invitational in November, had just nine points on four-of-15 shooting with nine rebounds. He was the only UT starter with more than one rebound.
"Nothing," said Maymon, who made eight of 15 shots and 16 of 17 free throws in the Maui meeting. "My shot just wasn't falling. My layups were rimming out. I had good looks. It just wasn't going down. You're going to have off-shooting nights."
UT shot just 36 percent for the game.
"I don't think we were necessarily timid; they did a good job defending," Martin said. "I thought we didn't get it inside enough, and I also didn't think we posted well enough to get the ball inside to score."
The Vols open SEC play against Florida in Knoxville on Saturday.
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 ...