KNOXVILLE — The lists of new items in Tennessee's Thompson-Boling Arena on Saturday included an LED lighting system, a banner and retired number in the rafters and some gray shoes for the home team.
It seemed to house a whole new basketball team, too.
The Volunteers looked completely different from the squad that has scuffled through Southeastern Conference play, as Antonio Barton scored 21 points and hit five 3-point baskets Saturday afternoon to pace one of Tennessee's best showings of the season, a 76-38 demolition of visiting Vanderbilt in front of 17,208.
Multiple Vols compared Saturday's victory to the 35-point thrashing of ACC title contender Virginia in December as the team's best performances.
"I think it's one of 'em," said coach Cuonzo Martin, now 4-2 against Vanderbilt. "Virginia was a good game. I thought we played well against Ole Miss. I thought we played well at Alabama.
"It's just consistency."
Tennessee's inconsistency only made how it played Saturday even more maddening, but the Vols (18-11, 9-7) certainly will be glad with their start to March, the season's most important month.
With the retirement of early 1980s Tennessee star Dale Ellis's No. 14 jersey and a new lighting system that darkened the seating area and brightened the floor much like Los Angeles Lakers' games at the Staples Center, Tennessee notched its most lopsided win in its 185th meeting with Vanderbilt (15-13, 7-9). The Commodores beat the Vols 64-60 in Nashville in early February.
"It's a rivalry game, Dale Ellis was retiring his jersey and we needed this win," Vols big man Jarnell Stokes said following his 17th double-double of the season. "Those three components led us to play with more enthusiasm. Now we're learning as a team that when we play with enthusiasm like this, the sky's the limit."
Tennessee shot 53 percent, hit 10-of-21 shots from 3-point range and assisted on 16 of its 26 baskets while smothering the Commodores defensively. Vanderbilt shot just 22 percent, turned the ball over 14 times and made only 11 field goals the entire game. In the second half, the 'Dores were 4-of-27 from the field.
It was drastically different from the game in Nashville, when Kyle Fuller had 12 points and 10 assists and Rod Odom scored 26 points. Saturday, Fuller scored just nine and Odom was 1-of-7 shooting for four points.
"I just think focus, again," Martin said on the difference between the two games.
"We allowed those guys to get their heads up. We allowed Fuller to penetrate and make plays. We did a better job with our guards defending him this game. We slowed Odom and made his touches and catches tough and his looks tough. You've got to force him to make plays off the dribble."
The Commodores' 38 points were the fewest by an opponent in Thompson-Boling Arena history, surpassing 40-point games by East Tennessee State in 1996 and Middle Tennessee State in 2007.
The Vols were sharp on both ends right from the opening tip. They scored the game's first six points, led 24-6 midway through the first half and took a 41-18 advantage into halftime.
"Energy," said Derek Reese, who chipped in a steal-and-slam, one 3 and seven rebounds off Tennessee's bench. "The games where we came out slow and that we lost, we didn't have enough energy that we're supposed to have that we know we can, or not playing as much 'D' as we need to.
"Today we were playing real good defense. We had energy. We were playing aggressive, playing tough, the whole game."
Barton hit from beyond the arc on Tennessee's first possession of the game and hit two more before halftime.
"I shot that with confidence," he said, "and it kind of settled me after I saw it went in."
The Memphis transfer surpassed his season high of 14 points early in the second half and neared his collegiate high of 24 points, set in 2011 while playing for the Tigers.
"I always say he's the X-factor," Stokes said, "and he showed it today."
Barton's scoring outburst made up for a quiet game from top scorer Jordan McRae, who scored just nine points on five shots and fouled out with 3:46 left.
Leading by 30 deep into garbage time, Tennessee went on a 10-0 run to push its lead to 40 points at 75-35 with 1:26 left.
That only further inspired the question: Where have these Vols been all season?
"It's very frustrating," Stokes admitted. "I felt like we've let a lot of them slip, a lot of games slip. I'm definitely trying not to think about it. I'm just trying to think about what's next and what we have to do to come into the SEC tournament with a high seed."
Contact Patrick Brown at email@example.com
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 ...