Overview: One day after scoring 32 points and grabbing 20 rebounds in a double-overtime loss to Memphis, Jeronne Maymon played just two minutes in Wednesday’s Maui Invitational seventh-place game against Chaminade. Not that it mattered. Tennessee didn’t need him in its 86-60 victory. Jordan McRae had 25 points and five steals and Trae Golden added seven assists to ensure the Volunteers left Maui with a win.
Turning point: This one was over before I finished my ham sandwich. Tennessee opened the game on a 14-2 run -- which included a pair of 3s by McRae -- and never looked back. It was encouraging to see the Vols so juiced for the game following Tuesday’s heartbreaker to rival Memphis.
Why Tennessee won: Besides simply being bigger, better and more athletic, UT was almost unstoppable from 3-point range. The Vols scored 45 points from beyond the arc, where they connected on 15 of 27 attempts. This just two days after not connecting on any against Duke. The most prolific snipers were McRae and Golden, who combined to make nine of their 11 3s. At one point, ESPN cameras listened in as an exasperated Chaminade coach Eric Bovaird addressed his team in the huddle. “I can’t believe they’re shooting that well,” he said. “Those 3s ... they’re making, like, 80 percent of them.”
Why Chaminade lost: The Silverswords couldn’t find the spark they had in the first half of Monday’s loss to UCLA, when they trailed by just two points. Chaminade shot just 34.9 percent from the field and only made 26.3 percent of its 3s. Matt Cousins (17 points) and Bennie Murray (13) led four Silverswords in double figures.
Star of the game: The easy choice is McRae. The 6-foot-5 sophomore made nine of his 11 shots, including a 5-of-7 performance from 3-point range, and was also a pest on the defensive end with five steals. McRae’s performance was huge considering the absence of Maymon, who missed most of the game because of a bruised calf. Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin said he expects Maymon to be back on the court for Monday’s game at Oakland.
More observations: Martin may not be facing as big of a rebuilding job as some people initially believed. Tennessee turned in a pair of strong performances in losses to Duke and Memphis before dominating Wednesday’s game against Chaminade. This team has some nice pieces with McRae, Golden, Maymon and Cameron Tatum. Don’t be surprised if the Vols are on the NCAA tournament bubble in March. “They’re competitive guys,” Martin said. “They have a true passion for each other. They want to be successful.”
What’s next: The Vols play at Oakland on Monday before hosting Big East stalwart Pittsburgh on Dec. 3. Interestingly enough, Tennessee whipped Pitt on the road last season, yet lost to Oakland at home.