Originally posted on Fox Sports Tennessee  |  Last updated 3/19/12
Tennessee's players have said all the right things about how they're thrilled to be still playing basketball, even if it is the NIT. And they proved that last week with a convincing opening-round victory over Savannah State. Making the effort more impressive was that it came without all-SEC forward Jeronne Maymon, who had a lingering knee injury flare up on him during the Volunteers' regular season ending loss to Ole Miss in the SEC Tournament. It will be even more impressive if Tennessee can advance to the NIT's version of the Elite Eight with a win against a tough Middle Tennessee State team without the services of Maymon once again. The Volunteers are preparing to play without Maymon, who scored no fewer than 12 points in all 16 of their SEC games this season. That would not only limit the Volunteers in the post, but it would prevent them from having their unquestioned leader on the floor for a game that could potentially end the season for good. "It's tough. You're talking about an all-league player. A guy who rebounds. A guy who really posts strong. A guy who helps facilitate the offense," first-year coach Cuonzo Martin said. "You're talking about really your team leader. You can't lose a guy of that magnitude and think you're going to click on all cylinders out of the gates." Without Maymon, freshman Jarnell Stokes was subject to even more attention than he's been accustomed to facing since he took the SEC by storm with his January enrolment. Playing against competition that was mostly undersized by comparison, Stokes responded with a sound 13 points and five rebounds in the Volunteers' 65-51 victory. It wasn't his prettiest effort, but it was what the Volunteers needed. They'll need another one just like it, especially if Maymon isn't playing. "For me, I just like W's," Martin said. "I'd rather gather and regroup after an ugly win I guess because it's a win." NOTES, QUOTES -Tennessee had a modest turnout for its opening-round NIT game against Savannah State. With general admission, 10 tickets available to the masses, Tennessee drew 6,289 fans, the third highest figure for any NIT game. It was, however, a far cry from the 17,411 Tennessee averaged during the regular season. -The Volunteers received an uncharacteristic amount of offense from their largely unheralded freshman class in their NIT opening round victory against Savannah State. Star F Jarnell Stokes led the group, which combined for 33 points, with 13 while F Yemi Makanjuola and G Josh Richardson each had 10. QUOTE TO NOTE "We were just trying to keep playing. We're going to keep battling no matter what the score is. We really didn't even pay attention to that. We were just looking to get the win and battling as hard as we could battle." -- Tennessee G Skylar McBee.
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