KNOXVILLE -- Antonio Barton says he's still trying to shake off some of the rust from missing the last chunk of the preseason with a left leg injury
It doesn't look that way, though, three games into Tennessee's basketball season.
The Memphis transfer again was efficient and smooth and continued to settle into his role for his new team Monday night, when he scored 10 first-half points as the Volunteers cruised past The Citadel 86-60 at Thompson-Boling Arena.
"I'm trying to get my leg back together," the 6-foot-2 guard said after finishing with 13 points in 23 minutes. "It's not all the way to 100 percent, but I can go, so I told Coach [Cuonzo Martin] I would give it my all.
"I'm working my way back in, and I've got a lot to work on."
Jordan McRae led Tennessee (2-1), which hosts Tennessee State on Friday night before heading to the Bahamas next week for the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament, with 20 points on 7-of-12 shooting, and freshman Robert Hubbs III added all but two of his 13 points in the second half of Monday's rout.
It was Barton, though, who paced the Vols early.
He hit four of his first five shots, including a pair of 3-pointers and a jump shot from about six feet, and his driving basket with 6:34 left in the half gave Tennessee a 32-12 lead.
Barton's lone basket in the second half was a straightaway 3 that pushed the Vols' lead to 65-41 with 9:06 left in the game.
"That's 'Ton," McRae said. "He takes those shots in practice, and we know he can hit them. We just need him to stay aggressive for us out there. He's pushing the ball, and when we don't push the ball, he gets mad us and tells us to run with it. That's the exact kind of guy we need."
For the season, Barton, who scored 10 points off the bench in the season-opening loss to Xavier, is shooting 8-of-12 from 3-point range and 13-of-20 from the floor, and he's turned the ball over just twice in 84 minutes. In three seasons at Memphis, Barton shot nearly 42 percent on 3-pointers.
"I just think an experienced guy -- he's made big shots, he's played at this level -- that part helps," Martin said. "He has experienced guys around him that help him pace himself. He doesn't have to do a lot. He can make shots.
"One of the things he does well that he's not doing as much just because he's getting his leg stronger is driving the basketball. Once he's able to get that leg 100 percent, you'll see that part of his game as well."
Barton added that his defensive pressure also would increase as he returns to 100 percent on his leg, which he estimated is at 90 percent now. Even short of full health, he's doing the things many expected him to come in and do for the Vols, who needed to fill a hole at point guard when Trae Golden left the program.
"He does a tremendous job," Martin said, "of keeping his composure, he doesn't turn it over, he can make shots and facilitates the offense."
And that's exactly what Barton's fine with doing.
"Being the leader, limiting turnovers and being effective on the defensive end and letting my offense come to me," he said.
"It's just kind of my game. I don't like to force the issue. I let the game come to me. My role is just to set the guys up, like Jordan. Set Jordan up for shots, Josh [Richardson], get [Jarnell] Stokes and Jeronne [Maymon] the ball, and I let the game come to me."
Contact Patrick Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org
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 ...