Massachusetts never found its rhythm in its first NCAA tournament game since 1998, from the Minutemen's stymied offense to their inability to harass Tennessee into mistakes with their pressure.
The nerves were there, too, in Friday's 86-67 loss to the Volunteers in the second round of the Midwest Regional. The Minutemen fell behind by double figures early, trailed by 20 points before halftime and never got closer than 10 again.
"Probably like a lot of people had jitters," said sophomore Derrick Gordon, the only UMass player with NCAA experience from his previous stop at Western Kentucky. "This was their first time playing in it. I had a little jitters myself. I think that was the cause of the first half and they beat us a lot down inside, and it was hard to catch back (up)."
UMass came into the game averaging 76 points and shooting 46 percent. They didn't come close to those numbers against the Vols, finishing at 42 percent with much of their production coming long after Tennessee had seized control. They also forced just three first-half turnovers.
It was a frustrating finish for the Minutemen under coach Derek Kellogg, who was a player during Massachusetts' 1990s surge under John Calipari. He started for a team that reached a regional final in 1995 during a run of seven straight NCAA appearances for the program, but his team never gave itself much of a chance to stick around Raleigh for another game.
"I think the whole university, the campus and the people were appreciative of what we were able to accomplish this season, and I'm hoping that it's a springboard that we can at least be in the conversation every year to be one of those teams," Kellogg said. "I'm happy obviously with the way the season played out getting here, but it's also bittersweet because I'd like to be playing Sunday."
For Tennessee, Jarnell Stokes scored a career-high 26 points and grabbed 14 rebounds while Jordan McRae added 21 points for the Volunteers (23-12), the No. 11 seed in the Midwest Regional.
Tennessee had little trouble with the sixth-seeded Minutemen (24-9), shooting 54 percent from the field and handling UMass' fullcourt pressure in a surprisingly one-sided performance that included another solid defensive showing.
The Vols are in the NCAAs for the first time in three seasons, starting with a First Four overtime win against Iowa. Now they are headed to Sunday's third round to face 14th-seeded Mercer, who upset Duke in Friday.
Chaz Williams and Maxie Esho scored 12 points each for UMass in its first NCAA appearance since 1998. But the Minutemen fell behind by double figures early, trailed by 20 points before halftime and never got closer than 10 again.
Tennessee has won seven of eight, with the only loss coming to No. 1 overall NCAA seed Florida in the Southeastern Conference tournament semifinals last weekend. And that has coach Cuonzo Martin's club playing with plenty of confidence at the right time of the season.
In their tournament opener Wednesday night, the Vols controlled the boards and dominated the overtime to beat the Hawkeyes 78-65 in the program's first NCAA tournament game since Bruce Pearl's final game as coach in 2011. Martin had said he thought the win helped his Vols get the jitters out — they didn't score until 6 minutes into that one — while also giving them a taste of tournament intensity by fighting through a tough game.
He was right. Tennessee protected the ball against pressure by committing three first-half turnovers, while Stokes and McRae led an offense that shot 52 percent in the first half and kept coming up with press-breaking answers to turn away every spurt by the Minutemen.
Stokes' 14 rebounds tied the school record for an NCAA tournament game, equaling the mark set by Isiah Victor in 1999 and Reggie Johnson in 1980. Throw in Jeronne Maymon's 11 points and 11 rebounds, and it marked the first time the Vols had multiple double-doubles in an NCAA game since 1977.
This was Tennessee's biggest margin of victory in an NCAA game since beating Long Beach State 121-86 in the 2007 first round.
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