KNOXVILLE — Jarnell Stokes insisted he wasn't playing angry after what happened in Tennessee's last game.
It sure looked like the Volunteers' big man was taking out some frustration, though.
After he was underused in Tennessee's loss at Missouri on Saturday, Stokes got plenty of looks and dominated to the tune of 20 points and 11 rebounds as the Vols snapped a two-game losing skid by pounding Georgia 67-48 Tuesday night in front of 13,852, the smallest crowd for an SEC men's game in Thompson-Boling Arena this season.
Stokes took just seven shots and one in the second half of a 75-70 loss to Missouri, but the Vols made concerted efforts to get him the ball early and often against the Bulldogs' long, lanky frontcourt.
"Coach [Cuonzo Martin] really stressed to the guys to get me the ball, and I wanted to back him up by making plays," Stokes said after his 15th double-double of the season. "It wasn't always about me scoring or anything. It was about finding open guys because we have a very good team."
Stokes got the ball in the post on Tennessee's second possession of the game, but the bruising 6-foot-8 junior from Memphis was only getting started.
On one play in the first half, he dribbled around a double-team in the corner and laid the ball in while a Georgia defender's arm raked the back of his head. For a second-half basket, Stokes went to a nifty spin move. He was the main reason the Vols (16-10, 7-6) outscored the visitors 34-18 in the paint.
"He's unstoppable down there, so we've got to make sure he gets the ball," Vols guard Antonio Barton, who chipped in 12 points on a quartet of 3-pointers. "I don't think he was frustrated [after Saturday]. He just came to us and told us to get him the ball, and that's what we did.
"He does it on and off. Coach tells him all the time that he's got to demand the ball, but when he demands the ball, he always creates something and makes something happen. I got most of my looks because he was kicking the ball back out to me."
After the first half included four ties and six lead changes, Tennessee took over early in the second half and held Georgia (14-11, 8-5) to 34 percent shooting for the game.
Georgia's Kenny Gaines missed an open 3 that would've tied the game at 38, and the Vols responded with a 7-0 spurt to push their lead to 10. After a 2-of-11 performance from 3 in the first half, the Vols began the second half 4-of-6 from long range.
After losing do-everything guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to the NBA draft lottery, Georgia was picked to finish 11th in the SEC, but the Bulldogs entered Tuesday's games in third place and on a four-game winning streak. The Bulldogs' sweep of Tennessee last season was a big reason the Vols missed the NCAA tournament.
"Stokes had a monster game," Georgia coach Mark Fox said. "We tried a number of different things, sent different people at him, and he really overpowered us."
Stokes had 13 points and six rebounds by halftime and finished 9-of-13 from the field.
"The key is always to get him the ball," Martin said. "It's no different than any other game. It's just a combination of there were better opportunities to feed him the ball, but also him posting aggressively. Again, you go back and watch film and watch as a team, he didn't post as aggressively [at Missouri], especially the last 11, 12 minutes of the game."
Stokes' performance should further the notion the Vols should ride his broad shoulders through a stretch run they hope ends with an NCAA tournament berth.
"Nobody should need reinforcement," Richardson said. "He's probably the most dominant big man in the conference. When we get it in there, good things happen."
Martin stressed to Stokes he needed to eschew his quiet nature and vocally demand the ball more, and Stokes felt that's what happened Tuesday.
"He basically said that I need to call for the ball more," Stokes said. "Of course, I would say, 'Coach, can you tell them to pass me the ball more.' I did a better job of demanding the ball and constantly being in guys' ears. Sometimes I feel like Coach wants me to rip a guy's head off if he don't pass me the ball, but I'm not that type of player.
"I remind them that when I get the ball, my objective isn't always to score. My objective is draw two, preferably three guys, and that makes us a deadly team when guys are able to hits shots for 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 ...