Originally posted on Fox Sports Tennessee  |  Last updated 1/16/12
On paper, the first half of the season and the first part of conference play haven't been kind to Tennessee. The Volunteers, two years removed from a trip to the Elite Eight, are 8-9 overall and 1-2 in SEC play after Saturday's 65-62 loss to Kentucky, their third straight in the heated rivalry. Yet Tennessee had something to feel good about in a game that, considering the talent gap between the squads, shouldn't have been as close as it was. The debut of 17-year-old Jarnell Stokes, a 6-foot-9, 270-pound power forward from Memphis, went better than expected and provided significant optimism heading toward an easier stretch of SEC games. Stokes, in 17 minutes off the bench, scored nine points, grabbed four rebounds and drew a charging foul. "I think it was really him being really hungry to play, and I thought the time was right to put him in," first-year Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin said. "We had one of those subs to just get him in, get a feel for the flow, try to go right to him. I thought he did a good job accepting the challenge." Landing Stokes, one of the country's most highly demanded recruits, was one monumental step in the right direction. Getting the early enrollee SEC-ready after just four practices was just as significant. The process will remain ongoing as the season continues. It's hard to figure he'll see less playing time in games this week against Georgia and UConn than he did Saturday against the Wildcats. "I wouldn't be out here if I didn't feel like I could do it," Stokes said. "Coach would've never put me in that situation if he thought I couldn't. I thank Tennessee for giving me the confidence to go out there, play and contribute." NOTES, QUOTES After an embarrassing effort earlier this month at Memphis, Tennessee played arguably its three best games of the season, even though two ended in losses. It fell to the Tigers by 18, but has since upset Florida, been a basket away from defeating Mississippi State on the road and put a legitimate scare into No. 2 Kentucky on Saturday. "We try to hang our hat on toughness," F Jeronne Maymon said. "We just go out every night and play team defense and team ball. Hopefully, we get good results. That's how we all think. We all have to be tough. We all have to be there for one another and have each other's back." New addition Jarnell Stokes has established a fast relationship with F Jeronne Maymon, who was averaging 11.5 points and 7.7 rebounds per game through Sunday. Stokes said he's used Maymon as a role model of sorts because of his high energy on the court, both in games and at practice. Maymon insisted that he's not doing anything special. "I make sure I show him the ropes and show him what other guys are going to try to do to him, take him off the bounce and be extra physical with him," Maymon said. "A lot of the guys in this league aren't as big and physical as him, so he's doing a real good job out there." Senior SF Cameron Tatum rebounded from one of his worst performances of the season Thursday against Mississippi State with one of his best Saturday against Kentucky. Tatum followed up his first zero-point effort of the year with a team-high 16 points against the Wildcats. Tatum hit a 3-pointer late in the action to make it a one-possession game before Kentucky pulled away. "I knew I had to step it up and be aggressive," Tatum said. "My thing right now is consistency. The guys on the team just tell me to be more aggressive. They tell me I am a great scorer and a great passer but I have to know how to get a mix of the two." QUOTE TO NOTE "Sometimes when you win a couple of games, you start to think you're good or whatever the case is. Night in and night out, you have to go out there and prove yourself once again. I just think our focus level is turned up a little bit more and we're paying more attention to our opponent." -- Tennessee F Jeronne Maymon.
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