Tennessee guard Jordan McRae (52) shoots a layup during the second half against The Citadel on Monday in Knoxville. (AP Photo/The Knoxville News Sentinel, Wade Payne)
KNOXVILLE — Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin wants to make sure his team doesn’t get carried away over its early success from 3-point range.
Jordan McRae scored 20 points and Tennessee shot 7 of 13 on 3-pointers Monday in an 86-60 rout of The Citadel that continued the Volunteers’ fast start from beyond the arc.
Tennessee (2-1) is shooting 44.4 percent (20 of 45) from 3-point range this season and is averaging 6.7 3-point baskets per game. The Vols made 31.6 percent (173 of 548) of their 3-point attempts and averaged 5.2 3-pointers per game last season.
McRae and Antonio Barton led the way Monday by shooting a combined 6 of 9 from 3-point range. McRae was 3 of 5 and Barton went 3 of 4 from behind the arc as the Vols never trailed all night.
“You have four or five legitimate guys who can make shots from the 3-point line, so we do have that,” Martin said. “The key is not settling for 3-point shots. I think we’re doing a better job of just not tossing shots up, and really driving the basketball and taking what the defense gives us.”
Barton and Robert Hubbs III each scored 13 for Tennessee, which grabbed a 20-point lead in the game’s first 11 minutes and was never seriously threatened. Matt Van Scyoc scored 19 points for The Citadel (2-3).
This game was technically part of the Battle 4 Atlantis, though the result didn’t impact who each team would face later in the tournament. Tennessee meets UTEP on Nov. 28 in Paradise Island, Bahamas. The Citadel plays Nov. 29 at Towson in its next Battle 4 Atlantis game.
Tennessee utilized its size advantage to take control of the game early. The Vols’ starting lineup features Jarnell Stokes and Jeronne Maymon, both 6-foot-8 and 260 pounds. The Citadel didn’t play anyone Monday with a listed weight above 218.
When The Citadel focused on stopping Tennessee’s big men, it created open looks from 3-point range. Tennessee made 11 of its first 14 shots overall and sank each of its first four 3-point attempts.
“We expect to shoot well from the 3-point line because with Stokes and Jeronne down low, they’re going to be getting double-teamed a lot,” Barton said. “When they get doubled, they can kick it out, and we’re very confident that we’ll knock the shots down.”
But after building a 30-10 advantage, the Vols got sloppy. Two days after a 74-65 victory over USC Upstate in which it committed just five turnovers - Tennessee’s lowest single-game total since 1992 - the Vols had 10 turnovers by halftime. They finished the night with 14 turnovers.
Tennessee also got lethargic in the opening minutes of the second half, allowing The Citadel to cut the lead to 45-31 on Van Scyoc’s 3-pointer with 19:09 remaining.
“We’ve all got to make sure to stay on everybody and we’ve got to make sure we stay on ourselves to keep our foot on the gas the whole game,” McRae said.
Since it didn’t have the bulk to match up with Stokes and Maymon, The Citadel relied heavily on its long-range shooting. The Bulldogs shot 8 of 18 from 3-point range Monday and are now 40 of 97 from beyond the arc this season.
But eventually, the Bulldogs started misfiring from everywhere. The Citadel missed 13 of its first 15 shots in the second half, allowing Tennessee to put the game out of reach. The Citadel coach Chuck Driesell said his team took too many contested shots near the basket rather than passing to open men on the perimeter.
“We took some shots (from two-point range) that we really should have kicked out against a team like this, not drive all the way to the rim,” Driesell said. “We’ve got 5-11 guards going in there against 6-6 guards and big men. Getting there is an accomplishment in itself. Now he’s got to make a better decision and kick it out to someone open. But we’ll get there.”
Tennessee got the lead back up to 20 with 13:58 left on an alley-oop from Darius Thompson to Josh Richardson, his second dunk of the night. Tennessee’s lead wouldn’t dip below 19 points the rest of the night. Thompson would connect on another alley-oop to Hubbs later in the game and eventually added a dunk of his own.