Stokes had 20 points, seven rebounds and seven assists and the Vols used a stifling defensive effort to rout Auburn 82-54 on Wednesday night.
“It was all on defense,” Stokes said. “We basically drew a line and just told them to cross it. I feel like it was a great defensive effort from top to bottom as far as guards anticipating and playing against two guys that are some of the top scorers in the SEC (KT Harrell and Chris Denson).”
The Volunteers (19-11, 10-7) were up 24 points at halftime and never gave the Tigers (13-15, 5-12) a glimmer of hope after the opening minutes.
Stokes was 8-of-10 shooting for Tennessee, which won its third straight and is trying to strengthen its NCAA tournament hopes. Antonio Barton made four 3-pointers and scored 14 points while Jordan McCrae and Jeronne Maymon had 13 apiece. Josh Richardson scored 10.
Maymon also had eight rebounds for the Vols, who outrebounded the Tigers 43-25. Tennessee is making a late surge to spruce up the team’s NCAA resume after rebounding from a 1-3 stretch.
“We do this every year,” Maymon said. “We get tough wins down the stretch, hope it just pays off this year. It’s coming at the right time. We’ve got to take care of one more home game and get ready for the SEC tournament.”
Freshman Tahj Shamsid-Deen had 17 points and made five 3-pointers for Auburn, which has dropped six of its last eight games. That matched his career high, but the team scored its season-low in points.
KT Harrell scored 15 and Asauhn Dixon-Tatum added 12 points on 5-of-6 shooting. Chris Denson, the SEC’s No. 2 scorer, finished with a season-low three points in his final game at Auburn Arena.
It might also be the home finale for Auburn coach Tony Barbee, whose program will finish near the bottom of the league for the fourth straight year. Athletic director Jay Jacobs said after last season he expected to see “significant improvement” from the Tigers.
Barbee didn’t respond directly to a question about whether that was his final home game.
“I’m proud of the guys and the way they’re fighting and looking forward to playing against Texas A&M,” he said before walking out of the interview room.
The Vols reached 19 wins for the ninth straight season and were never threatened.
It was one point shy of Auburn’s worst loss of the season, 99-70 at Iowa State. Tennessee has won the last seven games versus Auburn and swept the two regular-season contests.
Now, the Vols close the regular season Saturday against Missouri, another NCAA tournament bubble team.
“This is the team I envisioned defensively,” Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin said. “I think it really helps when Antonio is making shots. I think Antonio is doing a great job running the team at the point. I have always been a guy as a player and as a coach that believes it’s never too late to get better.
“We always take pride down the stretch of the season to continue to improve in skill on both ends of the floor. It’s hard, but if you embrace it, good things can happen.”
The Vols raced to a 44-20 halftime lead while holding Auburn to only two field goals in the first 13-plus minutes. They hit 28 of 58 baskets (48.3 percent).
“We knew we needed to come in right away and take their heart out,” Maymon said. “We didn’t want them to get a big Senior Night win and ride on emotions.”
Defensively, Tennessee never let Denson & Co. get untracked. Auburn made 20 of 53 shots (37.7 percent).
Denson was held to six in the previous game, a double-digit loss to rival Alabama but still came in averaging 19.9 points.
He’s 3 of 25 in his last two games after entering the stretch run with a chance to become the first Auburn player to lead the SEC in scoring in 20 years.
“I think he is pressing,” Barbee said. “I think he is thinking about the whole leading the SEC in scoring deal and it is hard to play under that pressure.”