- Associated Press - Saturday, March 1, 2014

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Tennessee backed up the vote of confidence Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings had given his in-state rival.

Two days after Stallings predicted Tennessee would perform well in the NCAA tournament, the Volunteers hammered Vanderbilt 76-38 on Saturday to boost their hopes of actually cracking the 68-team field.

Tennessee (18-11, 9-7 SEC) entered the day on the NCAA tournament bubble. The Vols visit Auburn on Wednesday and host Missouri on March 8 in their final two regular-season games.

“All our games are important from here on out,” Tennessee guard Antonio Barton said. “These last (two) games, we’ve got to take them personally leading into the SEC tournament. We have to win out.”

Barton had a season-high 21 points and a career-high six assists as Tennessee posted its most one-sided victory in this rivalry’s 185-game history. Vanderbilt’s 38 points were the fewest scored by any Tennessee opponent in the history of Thompson-Boling Arena, the Vols’ home floor since 1987-88.

Tennessee’s inconsistency this season had turned up the pressure on Vols coach Cuonzo Martin, who is seeking his first NCAA bid in his third year on the job. Stallings defended Martin on Thursday by saying “it’s absolutely a joke” that the Tennessee coach was facing questions about job security. Stallings added that he expected Tennessee to earn an NCAA bid regardless of what happened Saturday.

Stallings offered similar comments about Tennessee’s postseason prospects after Saturday’s game.

“I’ve been saying all season long that they’re a really good team,” Stallings said. “I think they’ve got a chance to do very well in the NCAA tournament.”

Before Saturday, Tennessee’s most one-sided victory over Vanderbilt was a 56-21 blowout on Feb. 22, 1947. The most one-sided win by either team is a 108-68 Vanderbilt triumph on Jan. 8, 1991.

This game represented a stark contrast from Tennessee’s 64-60 loss at Vanderbilt on Feb. 5.

In the first meeting between these two teams, Vanderbilt (15-13, 7-9) shot 60 percent in the first half and owned a 12-point lead early in the second half. In Saturday’s rematch, Tennessee led 41-18 at halftime.

The biggest difference came from Barton.

After struggling for much of the season and losing his starting job in late January, Barton moved back into the starting lineup Wednesday in a 75-68 victory at Mississippi State. He shot 7 of 11 overall and 5 of 7 from 3-point range Saturday in his best all-around performance of the year.

Barton’s 21 points marked his highest point total since he scored 21 against Tennessee while playing for Memphis during the 2011-12 season. Barton, who graduated from Memphis last summer, transferred to Tennessee for his final year of eligibility.

“These last two games, I thought he had a good floor game, not just shooting the ball, but I thought he did a good job probing the defense, getting assists, finding guys,” Martin said.

Jarnell Stokes added 12 points and 11 rebounds for Tennessee. Kyle Fuller had nine points for Vanderbilt, which shot 22.4 percent and ended up with more turnovers (14) than baskets (11).

Rod Odom, who scored a career-high 26 points in Vanderbilt’s Feb. 5 victory over Tennessee, had four points and shot 1 of 7 in the rematch.

“It was just a lack of competing, a lack of competitiveness,” Odom said. “They just came out and hit us in the mouth, and we never really got up.”

Tennessee never trailed and led by as many as 40 points. The Vols maintained their focus and remembered what senior forward Jeronne Maymon told them at halftime.

“The first thing he said when we walked into the locker room was, ‘We can’t let up. We can’t get too up. We just have to come out in the second half,’” Barton said. “We have been known to come out in the second half and let teams back into the game. We emphasized that we would come out here with the same intensity (as) the first half.”

The Vols delivered the kind of effort that showed they could make an impact in the NCAA tournament. But first they must get there.

“I feel like we definitely are capable of coming into the tournament and doing damage if we play with intensity, which we will,” Stokes said. “If they say we have to show the committee we have more to prove, then I guess that’s how it has to be.”

Before the game, Tennessee retired the No. 14 jersey of Dale Ellis, a two-time SEC player of the year who was with the Vols from 1979-83.



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