KNOXVILLE - A bad night made for a late one.
Hours after making just one of 10 free throws in his team's win Wednesday night at Auburn, Tennessee forward Jarnell Stokes toed the stripe inside a darkened Thompson-Boling Arena.
The 19-year-old sophomore shot free throws until he made 100 and sank 10 straight. He went to bed sometime after 3:15 a.m.
"That just helped my confidence a lot," Stokes said before the Volunteers' light practice Thursday afternoon. "A night like that, it was just terrible. I didn't want it to affect my confidence from the line."
Entering Saturday's regular-season finale against Missouri in Knoxville, Tennessee is fourth in the SEC in free-throw percentage at .706 in SEC games. While Stokes had a forgettable night in the 82-75 win against Auburn, the rest of the team made 26 of 28 attempts. Jordan McRae, a 79-percent foul shooter, made nine of 11 free throws and Trae Golden made all seven of his to bump his rate to 78 percent.
"We're probably counting those most nights," Vols coach Cuonzo Martin said.
His physical style -- and perhaps opponents' willingness to make him convert his free throws -- mean an abundance of free-throw tries for Stokes. He's taken 178 free throws this season, which going into Thursday was the second-highest total in the SEC, behind only Kentucky guard Archie Goodwin. The 6-foot-8 bruiser is shooting 55.6 percent from the line this season, though he shot 70 percent during one six-game stretch in SEC play.
When he wasn't missing free throws against Auburn, Stokes was doing what he does: scoring 10 points and grabbing 12 rebounds for his 13th double-double of the season and 10th in 14 games.
"I think that just overshadowed a good rebounding night," he said. "Guys were making jokes how I almost got a triple-double. I don't think that was funny."
"We gave Jarnell a hard time," guard Josh Richardson confirmed, "for five minutes after the game."
So Stokes grabbed teammate Yemi Makanjuola and enticed him with a promised shoutout on Instagram, a photo-sharing social media site, if he rebounded for him.
The shoutout came with the image of a silhouetted Stokes working on his free-throw form.
"That's what you're supposed to do," Martin said. "I don't know if you're necessarily [supposed to] be in here at one or two o'clock in the morning, but when you work on your game, you work on your game. You don't necessarily need to advertise it, but it's good he worked on his free throws.
"He's been shooting it well up until that point, and we all have bad days. He's always been a guy who works on his game. He knows he's been shooting free throws well and he struggled [Wednesday] night, so he took it personally, and that's a good sign."
The better sign for Stokes was the ball going through the hoop during the late-night session.
"If we would have lost, I probably would have had trouble sleeping," he said. "I didn't want to get back into that route [of] just missing a lot of free throws. I feel like that helped a lot, just seeing myself make them last night."
Thompson to visit
Murfreesboro Blackman High School point guard Darius Thompson is expected to attend Saturday's game. The 6-foot-4 Mr. Basketball finalist has been a priority for the Vols since his decommitment from Vanderbilt last month. Martin and a couple of his assistants have attended some of Thompson's recent games, including his 24-point, 11-assist performance in Blackman's win against Ooltewah on Monday that clinched a spot in next week's Class AAA state tournament.
Dyer County, featuring Tennessee signee and five-star shooting guard Robert Hubbs, is in the same eight-team field.