KNOXVILLE - The question has been asked countless times since Tennessee's 75-70 loss at Missouri on Saturday.
Why did Jarnell Stokes get only one shot in the second half of the Volunteers' 10th loss of the season?
After scoring 11 points on 5-of-6 shooting before halftime, Tennessee's star big man took his only shot of the second half at the 17:42 mark. That final period featured four ties and eight lead changes, even with Missouri's top four frontcourt players in serious foul trouble with more than 10 minutes to play.
Vols coach Cuonzo Martin addressed the question at his weekly news conference Monday.
"There were definitely plays called for him," Martin said ahead of tonight's visit from Georgia. "I think more than anything, I thought our guys on the perimeter had some good looks, and they shot the ball, but you've got to do a better job of getting it inside to him, even if I have to throw it inside to him myself as a coach from the sideline.
"We watched film as a team, and there were opportunities. There were a couple of times I don't think he posted as aggressively to get the ball. Like I told Jarnell, sometimes you have to come off the block and get it.
"I think from our standpoint, me as a coach," he added, "we've got to really lock in on that and make sure he gets the ball."
Since a six-point, five-rebound clunker in the loss to Texas A&M, Stokes has produced at a high level, racking up seven double-doubles in his last 10 games. Only once in that stretch has he failed to score at least 11 points. In SEC play, the junior from Memphis is averaging 14.5 points and 11.3 rebounds per game.
He scored 20 points and grabbed 16 rebounds at Kentucky, threw a 22-point, 16-rebound line on Alabama and piled up 20 points and 11 rebounds against SEC leaders Florida last week.
Yet Tennessee failed to ride him against the Tigers, and even though Jordan McRae scored 31 points, the Vols were just 4-of-21 on 3s against Missouri.
"He's a very unselfish player," Martin said of Stokes. "I'd like for him to be more selfish and more assertive, especially around the rim ... but we've got to get the ball to him, and our guards have got to do a great job of really finding him. Sometimes, like I told our guys, it's going to be tough passes, because [of] the way teams hover around him, but we've got to try to punch it in there."
With six games left in the regular season, the Vols remain squarely on the NCAA tournament bubble, with projections by ESPN and CBS placing them in the play-in games in Dayton as one of the last four teams in the 68-team field.
At 15-10 and facing a schedule that includes visits from Georgia, Vanderbilt and Missouri and trips to Texas A&M, Mississippi State and Auburn, Tennessee is out of opportunities for big-time wins, and five of those opponents have RPIs of 88 or lower, so the Vols can't afford another bad loss.
Though the schedule looks manageable, Tennessee is just 1-3 this season against its remaining opponents, and the next month leading up to Selection Sunday will have a big impact on the future of Martin and the program.
"As a coach, you've got to do your job," Martin said when asked about handling external pressure. "That's the bottom line. You stay locked in on what you need to do to be successful."
Getting the ball to Stokes more consistently than it did at Missouri is part of that formula for Tennessee, and Martin has continued to urge his big man to demand the basketball.
"He's a low-key kind of guy," Martin said. "He's done a great job of really scoring it around the rim, facing up and knocking his shots down. Again, he's a good passer and he's a very unselfish basketball player, but he has to do that, he has to demand it. I really don't think there are guys on the team that say, 'Man, I'm not passing Jarnell the ball.'
"As a ballplayer, if I played with him, I'm passing it to him every time down so he can get doubled so I can shoot wide-open shots. I don't think the guys think that way, but he has to demand that thing more, and we've got to do a better job of really trying to make tough passes sometimes to get him the ball in there."
Contact Patrick Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org.