KNOXVILLE - After hitting his fourth 3-pointer of the game midway through the second half of Tennessee's 67-48 win against Georgia on Tuesday night, Antonio Barton briefly paused to look down at the 3-point line.
In the moment, it seemed as if the Volunteers' point guard was telling himself, "Finally."
At least for one game, his shot was falling at last.
"After every one went in I was just like that," Barton said after breaking out of a long cold spell with 12 points on four 3s against the Bulldogs.
"Amen," quipped third-year Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin.
"I just felt relief, like it was a whole weight off my shoulders," Barton added. "I've been struggling for the past couple of games with my shooting, and it kind of looks frustrating, but I stuck with it and I'm gonna keep shooting."
Entering the Georgia game, the Memphis transfer, brought in to fill Tennessee's missing link at point guard, was an abysmal 9-of-45 (20 percent) from 3-point range in SEC play.
The Baltimore native hit 4-of-7 on Tuesday, by far his best shooting performance since an identical performance from 3 at LSU in the Vols' season opener six weeks ago.
Barton's outside shooting accompanied Jarnell Stokes' inside dominance as Tennessee notched its 13th win of the season by 15 or more points.
"It takes to us to another level," third-year Vols coach Cuonzo Martin said when asked how Barton making shots affects his team. "Now you have five guys out there, Jeronne [Maymon] and Jarnell do what they do around the rim and you've got three perimeter guys that'll make shots and also have the ability to drive the basketball. It just takes you to another level."
The Vols didn't come near that level with Barton's ice-cold shooting slump the past few weeks.
Just how poor was Barton shooting before his breakout against Georgia? In his previous nine games, he was 3-of-32 on 3-point attempts. During that stretch, Barton hit one trey against Arkansas, two at Vanderbilt and shot o-for-18 in the other seven games, and freshman Darius Thompson usurped Barton's starting role.
Even while he might as well have been buried by the roughly foot of snow Knoxville's gotten on a couple different occasions in recent weeks, Barton said his daily 90-minute shooting sessions helped him keep his confidence up.
"I work out every day in the morning at 10 o'clock and get up as many shots as I can," he said. "My confidence was high. I was just waiting on that moment for it to fall.
"I was always still confident in my shot. That's why I kept shooting. It's going to be ups and downs like that, and you've just got to be a strong person to handle that."
Barton said he felt like he was going to have a good night shooting during Tennessee's shootaround, added that teammate Quinton Chievous told him to go "four-for-something" against Georgia and credited the Vols' coaches for maintaining their faith in him during his frozen stretch.
Barton had one 3 that fell through the net after popping straight up off the front rim. He hit two triples early while the game was back and forth and added two more as the Vols pulled away in the second half.
The Vols were 4-1, including the rout of Virginia and a 2-1 start in league play, during a five-game stretch earlier this season when he hit 13 total 3s and and averaged 13 points, and Tennessee is now 6-2 this season when Barton hits multiple 3s.
"The biggest key is when you work on your shot and put a lot of time in it -- and he's put a lot of time into it -- eventually those shots start to fall," Martin said. "If you don't put the time into it, and it doesn't fall, then there's no need to be upset. He puts the time into it, so that's probably why he wants those shots to fall and shows the emotion he does."
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