Knoxville, Tenn. – The Vols received major contributions from unlikely sources as Tennessee rallied to knock off Xavier, 51-47, before a season-high 18,504 fans at Thompson-Boling Arena on Saturday night.
In his collegiate debut, freshman forward Derek Reese made a major impact with seven points including the go-ahead basket midway through the second half to give the Vols the lead they would never relinquish. Bigman Yemi Makanjuola grabbed eight rebounds with six in the second half and drew two huge charges including one with 1:21 left in the game. He played just nine minutes.
Walk-on point guard Brandon Lopez played a career-high 13 minutes and did not turn the ball over as starter Trae Golden (five points, four turnovers) struggled early on.
The Tennessee (8-3) bench outscored Xavier’s 21-9. The Vols limited the Muskteers to 32.7 from the floor including just one 3-pointer.
Xavier had 19 turnovers, the most Tennessee has forced under Cuonzo Martin in his two seasons as the head coach of the Vols.
The Vols’ scoring chart was led by sophomore Josh Richardson, who had a career-high tying 12 points. Jordan McRae added eight points.
Xavier (7-5) was led by Travis Taylor, who had 12 points. The Muskies’ leading scorer Semaj Christon was limited to five points with Richardson guarding him much of the night.
Reese gave the Vols their first lead since 7-6, on a 3-pointer with 8:11 left in the second half, putting UT ahead, 38-35, and they would never trail again. Kenny Hall’s layup with 7:17 left extended the lead to 40-36. Stokes powered up for a driving lay-up to continue the Vols’ 9-1run with 5:40 left for a 42-36 lead.
As the offense started to click the defense was stifling as the Vols kept the Musketeers without a field goal for a span of 10:16 before Justin Martin scored with 5:20 left in the game, making it 42-38.
Taylor brought Xavier within one on a layup with 2:11 left, 44-43.
Makanajuola drew his second charge with 1:21 left as Christon crashed into the Nigerian native. That led to McRae swooping in for a runner with 51.6 seconds left and a three-point margin, 46-43.
Xavier’s last chance to tie the game came on a Christon 3-pointer with with 34 seconds left which was deflected by McRae and corralled by Makanjuola.
Golden finally got on the board with a pair of free throws with 25.7 left, making it 48-43. He rattled home another foul shot with 16.7 remaining to make it 49-45.
XU’s Martin missed two free throws with 5.1 seconds left. Taylor hit a jumper with 2.1 left but Golden added two more free throws with 0.4 left and the Vols sealed the win, 51-47.
Down by 10, the Vols used a 10-0 run to tie the game. Richardson’s short jumper with 9:48 left deadlocked the game at 33.
The Vols held Xavier scoreless for 6:01 the sixth streak this season of five minutes or more for an opponent. Martin ended the drought with 9:33 left on a pair of free throws.
McRae’s layup with 13:35 left in the second half brought the Vols within five at 33-28. Reese’s first-career bucket on a 3-pointer with 13 minutes left cut the deficit to two at 33-31.
Xavier opened the second half scoring the first six points to take the largest lead to that point at 31-21 with 17:56 left in the second half.
Tennessee trailed 25-21 at halftime as both teams struggled from the floor in the first half as the Vols shot 36 percent while Xavier made just 31 percent. The Musketeers pounded the Vols on the glass, outrebounding them, 29-16.
Xavier took an eight-point lead at 23-15 on an alley-oop from Dee Davis to Erik Stenger with 3:19 left in the half.
Down by as many as six, the Vols cut the margin to two at 17-15 on Jarnell Stokes’ first bucket of the half at the 5:30 mark.
Xavier used a 9-0 run to take a 13-7 lead on the Vols as Isaiah Philmore put home a jumper with 10 minutes left in the first half. The Vols struggled from the floor early on, making just two of their first 10 shots. Tennessee had a scoreless drought lasting nearly five minutes before Richardson drove to the hoop and scored with 8:36 left in the half.
Reese had missed the team’s first 10 games following right shoulder surgery. The Orlando, Fla., native played 23 minutes.
The Vols continue their six-game homestand as cross-state rival Memphis on Friday, Jan. 4 at 7:00 PM.
Courtesy UT Media Relations