KNOXVILLE - Jordan McRae was in his typical spot Thursday night.
As he did 15 times in 33 games last season, the spindly senior led Tennessee's basketball team in scoring.
The Volunteers wouldn't have been in a handful of games last year without McRae's scoring, but heading into this season, the All-SEC player said he feels less pressure to be the go-to guy every game.
"I'd just heard about him. I knew that he was really good in the SEC," Rawane "Pops" Ndiaye, one of Tennessee's newcomers, said after the Vols' 78-47 exhibition win against Southern Indiana at Thompson-Boling Arena. "Coming in here, that's when I met him, and then seeing him play, that's when I figured out he's a really, really good player.
"I think Jordan's a wonderful player and a wonderful teammate. He attacks the basket and shoots the ball very well. He's going to do some great things. Hopefully, this year he'll do his thing and make it professionally somewhere."
McRae needed only 23 minutes to score 15 points, though he shot just 4-of-16 from the field and made only one of his six 3-point attempts. A dozen of his points came in the first half. When the Vols went more than five minutes without a basket, it was McRae who stopped the drought.
His lone second-half basket was a highlight-reel tomahawk dunk where he took one dribble after shot-faking and took flight.
"I'm just out there having fun," McRae said. "Coach [Cuonzo] Martin got mad at me a couple of times because I didn't shoot, so that's different.
"Just having Jeronne [Maymon] out there, having Jarnell [Stokes] ... Josh [Richardson] is better offensively. Darius [Thompson] hasn't really shown much of what he can do on offense, but I think as the season goes on and he gets more comfortable, he will. We've also got [Robert] Hubbs out there, too. He's just a natural scorer."
Richardson added 12 points, and Stokes scored 11. His layup that stretched the Vols' lead to 26 came off a no-look pass from McRae in transition. Tennessee had a whopping 26 offensive rebounds.
Martin likes to say his offense runs through the big-man combo of Maymon and Stokes, but the duo played just 15 minutes each and combined to take only 11 shots Thursday.
"Because of the game, it was fine," the Vols' third-year coach coach. "We did a great job of getting offensive rebounds. In Jarnell's, it was being in foul trouble. We sat Jeronne in the second half to give those other guys minutes to play. Those guys will find each other, and we'll run plays and get them the ball when we need to."
The ball was in McRae's hands quite a bit last season. He led Tennessee in scoring at 15.7 points per game and had one late-season stretch in which he scored 20 or more in five consecutive games, a run that included 34-, 35- and 27-point performances. McRae scored 20 or more five times in a six-game stretch earlier in the season.
"There was times, of course, when I felt like, 'I've got to play good, I've got to play good,' but those are the games where you don't play good," he said. "I'm just going out there with a clear mind. Like tonight, I missed a lot of easy shots, but it's going to happen. I'm going to get in the gym tomorrow morning and try to correct it."
McRae should have help from Maymon, the experienced facilitator who's back after missing last season with a knee injury, and Stokes, who looks slimmer and has seemed quicker in the Vols' two exhibition games.
Tennessee officially begins a season with big ambitions and high expectations Tuesday at Xavier.
"It's never bad to have Jordan as an option," Richardson said. "Those three together, I mean, they're deadly. I think we have a big advantage on everybody."