Jordan McRae, Jarnell Stokes lead Tennessee Vols past Alabama 76-59

Jordan McRae, Jarnell Stokes lead Tennessee Vols past Alabama 76-59

February 2nd, 2014 by Patrick Brown in Sports - College

Tennessee forward Jarnell Stokes (5) tips the shot of Alabama guard Retin Obasohan (32) during an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Feb. 1, 2014, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. Tennessee won 76-59.

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

It required a very strong second half, but Tennessee finally snapped its hex at Alabama's Coleman Coliseum.

The Volunteers completed a bounce-back week from an embarrassing 26-point loss at Florida eight days ago with a second wire-to-wire win.

In a building where it had won just three times in its last 21 visits, Tennessee blew open a close game Saturday night with an 11-2 run early in the second half and shot 71 percent after halftime in a 76-59 dismantling of the struggling Crimson Tide in Tuscaloosa.

Jordan McRae scored 26 points for the second consecutive game since his 1-of-15 shooting performance in Gainesville, and Jarnell Stokes was dominant at times during a 22-point, 16-rebound performance as Tennessee (14-7, 5-3 SEC) handed Alabama its worst home loss since New Year's Day in 2008, when Clemson won by 26.

It was Tennessee's first win at Alabama since 2010 and just the Vols' fourth since 1979.

"I think the Florida game was a growing point for our team," Stokes told the Vol Network after his 12th double-double of the season. "We struggled with the press against them, we struggled hitting shots and we struggled in ball-screen defense, and that's almost exactly what Alabama's game plan was.

"Today means a lot to me because we were able to step up and do the things that we've been struggling in."

Three days after he hit six 3-pointers against Ole Miss, McRae hit five Saturday night, and Josh Richardson added three triples as Tennessee shot 9-of-20 from beyond the arc against the Tide (9-12, 3-5).

Turnovers had doomed Tennessee to losses in each of its trips to Tuscaloosa the past two seasons under coach Cuonzo Martin, but the Vols committed just five Saturday night, with freshman Darius Thompson starting again at point guard.

It was a defensive move, though, that swung the game in the Vols' favor.

After Alabama scored on its first six trips of the second half and pulled within two, Tennessee switched to a 1-3-1 zone it's never showed under Martin, and the new-look defense confused the Tide on a handful of possessions as the Vols settled into a groove on the offensive end.

"I just felt like in the second half of this game, it was time, because [Alabama] put their head down they started making plays, getting to the basket and cutting into that lead," Martin said. "We weren't very aggressive defensively, so I said, 'Let's change it up,' because I knew they weren't expecting it.

"The one thing about a 1-3-1 is I don't think there's a lot of plays you can run. You have to make decisions, and you can't make direct passes. I thought our guys did a good job, we stuck with it and we made plays."

Martin said the Vols have been working on the defense they call "13" for nearly three weeks and added he considered implementing it against Florida.

"I never thought Coach Martin would turn to a zone," Stokes said, "but I'm glad it worked, and it just gives us another option when our man defense isn't playing as well.

In Tennessee's game-changing run early in the second half, Richardson hit a jumper in the lane, McRae hit from 3, Thompson dunked after fellow freshman A.J. Davis's steal and Stokes converted a pick-and-roll layup.

Alabama got no closer than eight points in the game's final 12:56, and Tennessee's lead ballooned to 23 as the visitors pulled away.

Stokes drove the basket for an authoritative one-handed slam dunk and added another late three-point play, and McRae scored eight straight points in a row at one point as the Vols gave the Tide their worst SEC home loss since 2003.

"Florida was a learning point for us," Stokes said, "and ever since then, guys have been in the gym nonstop working on shots."

Six of Tennessee's first seven made shots were 3s, and McRae had three of those triples.

Tennessee scored the game's first nine points, and Alabama answered with eight straight points. The Vols responded to that run with a 10-2 spurt to take a double-digit lead. McRae hit two of his 3s and Stokes and Jeronne Maymon each hit a pair of free throws during that stretch.

After a first half in which the two teams combined to shoot 30.9 percent (17-of-55) from the field and Alabama made just 2 of 11 shots from beyond the 3-point arc, the Vols led 30-23.

Contact Patrick Brown at pbrown@timesfreepress.com.