KNOXVILLE -- It's a difficult sight for Tennessee's Trae Golden to miss.
When Jarnell Stokes' hulking 6-foot-8, 270-pound frame is dashing down the basketball floor at full speed, the Volunteers' point guard knows it's a good idea to get him the ball.
That combination worked a few times Monday night at Thompson-Boling Arena, where the energized Vols defended magnificently and ran their way to a 77-50 win against visiting Oakland, a Summit League foe from Michigan that had beaten Tennessee the past two seasons.
"He's the biggest person on the court," Golden said of Stokes, who finished with a game-high 19 points on 7-of-8 shooting. "I just know those guys are super athletic, him and Kenny [Hall] and Yemi [Makanjuola], so I tell them all the time [to] run as hard they can and I'm going to make sure I get them. Our big guys, they get mad at me if they don't get the ball."
Coach Cuonzo Martin gets mad at his players if they don't play defense, but he certainly was smiling inside the locker room at halftime after Tennessee (4-1) held Oakland to 15 points on just 15.6 percent shooting (5-of-32) in the first 20 minutes.
"It was hard to find any wrong," Martin said of the first half. "If you compete like that, you give yourself a chance to win games. Probably one of our better efforts overall since I've been here, from top to bottom."
The points were the fewest the Vols have allowed under Martin, and the Golden Grizzlies' .286 mark for the game was the lowest percentage for a Tennessee opponent under their defense-loving head man.
"That's what we are," Golden said. "We try to pride ourselves on defense, and I think that led to us having a good offensive night, just playing good defense."
Tennessee had more than a week off after returning from a tournament in Puerto Rico and played like a team chomping at the bit to return to the floor. The Vols didn't like their third-place finish, which included an ugly loss to Oklahoma State. Martin made defense a focus, and the Vols were ready.
The Vols jumped all over Oakland (2-5). They led 11-2, extended the advantage to 20-5 and pushed it to 33-12. The Vols tallied 15 fastbreak points, which is one more than they had in their first four games combined.
"We don't leak out [on breaks]," Martin explained. "We try to defend well and then get out and run. I thought we did a good job of that."
Golden capped a 14-point half with a deep 3-pointer and finished with 18 points on 7-of-9 shooting with four rebounds and seven assists for a well-rounded night. Hall was active with nine points and 11 rebounds. For Oakland, leading scorer Travis Bader needed 14 shots to reach 18 points, and second-leading scorer Duke Mondy was scoreless for nearly 30 minutes.
When the Golden Grizzlies trimmed a 25-point deficit to 19, Stokes resumed his running and finished one fastbreak with a three-point play and another with a two-handed running dunk.
"I want to give Trae congratulations," said the sophomore from Memphis. "When I'm running the floor on the break, I expect to get the ball. I expect to dunk the ball.
"That's all I'm thinking. You can ask any big man. When your point guard finds you the first time, you're going to run the floor the whole game just looking to dunk the ball more."
Martin wanted to see a more consistency from his talented forward, and he got it Monday night.
"If he has the motor, with his presence and as physical as he is, it's tough for guys," he said. "It doesn't matter which big: Whoever gets down first and posts up, we're going inside. I thought he did a good job of outrunning his guy.
"You're trying to run and get easy baskets. When your perimeter guys are making shots and making plays, it's easy for our big guys to run and get easy looks. Some nights it won't be that easy, but if they run like that, we'll get our share of baskets."
They're pretty easy to spot.
Contact Patrick Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org or 901-581-7288. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/patrickbrowntfp.
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 ...