KNOXVILLE -- Cuonzo Martin has reiterated it many times during the first half of his first season as Tennessee's basketball coach: He doesn't like to change his starting lineup.
So much for that.
So much for Florida's high-scoring offensive attack, too.
Previous starters Jordan McRae and Kenny Hall combined for 23 points off the bench, and Martin's Volunteers held the 13th-ranked Gators to their lowest scoring output of the year in a 67-56 win at Thompson-Boling Arena in the Southeastern Conference opener for both teams Saturday.
"Yeah, it surprised us, but, hey, what are you going to do?" UT point guard Trae Golden said of the lineup changes. "He's the head honcho, so whatever he says goes. Whatever he wants happens. It surprised me, but it's not something we didn't know we could work with."
Golden contributed 12 points, seven assists and four rebounds.
McRae, who was replaced at the other guard spot by freshman Josh Richardson, was averaging just four points on 6-of-26 shooting in the last five games. Renaldo Woolridge started in Hall's place at center after the sophomore failed to grab a single rebound in Wednesday's loss at Memphis.
"I haven't been playing well on either side of the ball," McRae said after he made four of nine shots for 10 points. "Just like Coach has been saying, some nights your offense is going to come and go, but my defense is going to have to be consistent every night. I did that [today]. We never was mad about it. We knew what we had do to; we know what Coach likes, and that's playing hard on defense, going for loose balls and doing everything you're supposed to do.
"We always think and talk about how good we can be, but winning this game, it shows us how good we really can be. If feels good to go out and play well."
Martin tabbed Richardson for his defense, Woolridge for his ability to match up with Florida's Erik Murphy (13 points) and both for the energy he thought they could bring.
Neither team led by more than four points in a tight first half, but Golden's trey just before halftime gave UT a 33-29 lead. Richardson, who also scored the Vols' first basket of the game, hit a 3-pointer early in the second half to give UT a five-point lead, and Florida got no closer the rest of the game.
"You've got to sell yourself to the team, and that's the important thing," Martin said. "Whatever happens happens, because when you're starting, there's guys sitting on the bench that are cheering for you. It's a two-way street. We're a family, we're a team, so you have to accept your role."
The Gators entered the game averaging 84 points on 48-percent shooting, but they made just 36 percent of their shots Saturday. The talented starting backcourt of Erving Walker, Kenny Boynton and Bradley Beal combined for only 30 points on 11-of-32 shooting.
"You've got to take pride in defending," Martin said. "Defense isn't that hard; it's just a desire to do it at a high level and having fun doing it."
With the Vols and their crowd feeding off each other, UT slowly pulled away in the second half. Hall's three-point play and five straight points by Cameron Tatum pushed Florida's deficit from seven to a dozen, and UT led by as many as 16.
"I didn't mind being the energy coming off the bench and making good things happen," said Hall, who added five rebounds to his 13 points. "In the past couple of games I hadn't really been doing anything, and Renaldo has been doing a good job coming off the bench. I wasn't really surprised. I'm just glad I was there for my team."
UT was efficient offensively, shooting 51 percent, making five of 10 3-point attempts and scoring 32 points inside the paint. Though he missed six foul shots, Jeronne Maymon had 12 points and seven rebounds in his battle with Patric Young, the powerful Florida forward who matched those stats.
Team chaplain Roger Woods and former Vol All-American Tony White visited the Vols during their team meeting Friday night, which Maymon dubbed "inspirational" and "a shocker." That's precisely what the Vols pulled off Saturday.
"It was fun to watch our guys really compete and battle," Martin said, "because I don't think there have been too many times like that this year that we've played like that from a passion standpoint, playing for each other and defending the way we did."
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 ...
related articles »
KNOXVILLE — Somehow, Jarnell Stokes got off a shot with an arm raking the Tennessee forward across the face.
KNOXVILLE — The game was over, even if nearly 16 minutes remained on the Thompson-Boling Arena clock.
KNOXVILLE — Jordan McRae flashed a smile. The mere mention of the Tennessee basketball wing's scoring ability prompted such a ...
KNOXVILLE - A change in the starting lineup and an energized crowd helped Tennessee take its SEC opener against 13th-ranked ...