STEVE MEGARGEE,AP Sports Writer
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Major-conference teams often have to guard against overconfidence in early-season games against programs from one-bid leagues.
Not in this case.
Jarnell Stokes scored 19 points and went 7-of-8 from the floor Monday as Tennessee relied on suffocating defense to roll to a 77-50 victory over Oakland, a Summit League program that had defeated the Volunteers each of the last two seasons. Oakland, which has averaged 23.5 wins over the last four years, won 89-82 at Knoxville in December 2010 and beat the Vols 89-81 at home last season.
Tennessee guard Trae Golden said assistant coach Kent Williams took him aside during the pregame shootaround and reminded him that “we owe these guys.”
“We just wanted to come out, make sure we played as hard as we can,” said Golden, who collected 18 points and seven assists with only one turnover. “We kind of got them back for last year.”
Tennessee (4-1) earned that revenge by continuing Oakland’s cold streak. Oakland went 2-of-16 from 3-point range and shot just 28.6 percent (16-of-56) overall, the lowest shooting percentage by any Tennessee opponent in Vols coach Cuonzo Martin’s two-year tenure. The Golden Grizzlies (2-5) were coming off a 70-52 loss at Michigan State on Friday in which they shot 27.6 percent (16-of-58), their worst field-goal percentage since joining the Division I ranks in 1999.
“It’s probably one of the better efforts since I’ve been here from top to bottom,” Martin said.
Tennessee played at Oakland last year just four days after returning from the Maui Invitational and looked like a tired team that entire game. The Vols avoided a similar issue this year by getting plenty of rest after returning from the Puerto Rico Tip-Off. Monday marked the Vols’ first game since their 83-69 victory over Massachusetts on Nov. 18 in Puerto Rico.
The difference in the Vols’ energy level was apparent from the opening minutes. Tennessee took an early 15-2 lead, built a 38-15 halftime advantage and never looked back.
“A lot of guys were tired of practicing,” Stokes said. “They were ready to play. That’s where the energy came from. We don’t want to go into the next practice with a bad defensive effort. You know practice would just get uglier. Guys were very energetic.”
This time, Oakland looked like the weary team as it played its sixth game in a 16-day stretch. Oakland has gone 1-5 during that period, though it did take Pittsburgh to overtime.
“I’m not going to make excuses,” Oakland coach Greg Kampe said. “They beat the hell out of us. But I will tell you that we looked the way we looked because we’ve played six games in 16 days. We flew to Louisiana, to Boise, to Pittsburgh, to Michigan State to here (Knoxville). That’s a lot of travel to put on a group of young kids, that many games in that many days. We haven’t practiced in two weeks and we played like it. The collateral damage of that schedule was tonight. I knew it would be somewhere, I was hoping it wouldn’t be here, but it was tonight.”
Tennessee staged a defensive clinic in the first half, as Oakland shot 5-of-32 overall and 1-of-11 from 3-point range. Oakland’s 15 first-half points were the fewest Tennessee had allowed in a half since Martin took over the program last season.
After scoring a total of four fast-break points in three Puerto Rico Tip-Off games, the Vols compiled 15 fast-break points against Oakland. Golden continually got the ball to Stokes and senior forward Kenny Hall for easy transition baskets.
“I kind of pulled Kenny and Jarnell to the side and told them, ‘You’ve got to run the court. If Kenny gets the rebound, Jarnell you outrun everybody else and vice versa,'” Golden said. “With that, they ran the floor and I just got them the ball.”
Golden nearly outscored the Grizzlies by himself in the first half, as he scored 14 points before the intermission. Golden made his first five shots of the night before missing a hurried 3-pointer at the halftime buzzer.
Although Oakland shot a little bit better after halftime while Tennessee wasn’t quite as sharp, the Vols’ second-half lead still never dipped below 19 points.
Travis Bader scored 18 points and Corey Petros added 10 points for Oakland. Hall compiled nine points and 11 rebounds for Tennessee.
The Vols need big performances from Stokes and Hall as they continue to play without starting forward Jeronne Maymon, who hasn’t played all season because of a setback in his recovery from offseason arthroscopic knee surgery. The road only gets tougher here for the Vols, who next play Friday against No. 20 Georgetown at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C.
Martin looks forward to seeing how the Vols match up with a quality major-conference program. The Vols already have made an impression on Kampe, who believes they’re similar to the Pittsburgh and Michigan State teams Oakland faced earlier this season.
“Tennessee does not rebound like Pittsburgh and (Michigan) State do,” Kampe said, “but I don’t think Pittsburgh and (Michigan) State have the scoring potential that this team has.”
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