Tennessee's Jarnell Stokes gets to the basket against USC Upstate on Saturday night at Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville. (AP Photo)
KNOXVILLE — USC Upstate coach Eddie Payne says Tennessee forwards Jarnell Stokes and Jeronne Maymon — both 6-foot-8 and 260 pounds — have the size to play at the next level.
And he isn't necessarily talking about the NBA.
"Those two guys can be rushing on the edge in the NFL one day if they decide to do that," Payne quipped Saturday after his team fell 74-65 to Tennessee in the Volunteers' home opener.
Stokes scored 17 points and matched a career high with 18 rebounds Saturday as Tennessee (1-1) avoided its first 0-2 start since 1965-66. Maymon added 15 points and 11 rebounds to help the Vols rally from a 13-point deficit. This marked the first time Stokes and Maymon recorded double-doubles in the same game.
That's just the kind of one-two punch the Vols were hoping to get on their front line now that Maymon's back in the lineup. Maymon, a second-team all-Southeastern Conference selection in 2011-12, redshirted last season with an injured left knee.
"If me and Maymon play like that, I think we're capable of winning every game," Stokes said.
Jordan McRae had 18 points for Tennessee despite being held without a basket in the first half. Antonio Barton added 13 points, including a fadeaway 3-pointer that put Tennessee ahead for good with 8:41 left.
Tennessee had only five turnovers, its lowest total since a 68-67 victory over Dayton on Feb. 15, 1992. The Vols also had five turnovers in that game.
Torrey Craig scored 20 points and Ty Greene had 15 for USC Upstate (1-2). Greene graduated from Bearden High School — about eight miles from Thompson-Boling Arena — and had Tennessee season tickets for most of his childhood. He said he had about 150 friends and family members at the game.
"It was one of the weirdest experiences of my life," Greene said. "For 'Rocky Top' to be playing and for me not to be singing it, it was something just bizarre."
USC Upstate was attempting to beat a major-conference opponent for the second time in as many attempts this season. The Spartans opened the season with a 64-63 victory over Atlantic Coast Conference member Virginia Tech before falling 82-74 at Winthrop.
And the Spartans certainly didn't look intimidated in the early going.
USC Upstate shot 62.1 percent (18 of 29) overall and 57.1 percent (4 of 7) from 3-point range in the first half and led 42-35 at the intermission.
"When you watch them on film, you know these guys can play," Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin said. "There's no doubt in my mind that Craig will play at the next level, and Greene is a very talented player."
Tennessee stayed relatively close early only by working the ball inside and drawing fouls. The Vols went 29 of 36 on free throws Saturday after going 7 of 19 from the line Tuesday in a 67-63 loss at Xavier. USC Upstate attempted only two free throws in the first half and finished 11 of 16 from the line.
Stokes' line exemplified the tenacity of Tennessee's post players. He needed a return to form after fouling out of Tuesday's game with just four points and four rebounds. Stokes shot just 5 of 17 on Saturday, but he kept working to draw fouls and went 7 of 8 from the free-throw line.
Although Stokes had 12 points by halftime, Martin said he thought the 6-8 junior "got dominated" in the first half. Martin appreciated the way Stokes stepped up over the final 20 minutes to spark Tennessee's comeback.
"That was probably one of the more physical games I've played in college," Stokes said. "I'm glad I was able to overcome (it) in the second half."
USC Upstate led 57-48 with 12½ minutes remaining, but the Spartans would make just one basket over the next eight minutes while Tennessee went on a 20-4 run. The biggest blow was the 3-pointer from Barton, who pumped his fist as the shot went through to give Tennessee its first lead since the first six minutes of the game.
The Vols stayed ahead the rest of the way, as the presence of Stokes and Maymon eventually wore USC Upstate down. USC Upstate shot just 26.9 percent (7 of 26) and missed all seven of its 3-point attempts in the second half.
"Me and him are some bruisers down there," Maymon said. "We try to play relentless."
They needed to play that way to survive USC Upstate's challenge.
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