When his opportunity arose, Reese made sure to capitalize.
After never leaving the bench in Tennessee’s first 10 games of the season, Reese produced a double-double Monday as Tennessee ended a two-game skid with an 82-67 victory over Morehead State. The 6-foot-8 sophomore forward had 12 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks to establish career highs in all three categories.
“They all gave me hints and were just telling me to be ready, your name might be called,” Reese said. “That’s what I was going off. I was making sure every day in practice, I was ready for my opportunity to come.”
Tennessee (7-4) was seeking to bounce back from back-to-back losses to No. 10 Wichita State, which was ranked 12th at the time of the game, and North Carolina State. Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin had said Wednesday after the 65-58 loss to N.C. State that he would consider lineup changes, but he opted to stick with the same starting five that he’s used most of the season: Antonio Barton, Jordan McRae, Jeronne Maymon, Josh Richardson and Jarnell Stokes.
But he did take a couple of chances after Morehead State (8-6) cut Tennessee’s lead to 16-12 midway through the first half. Martin put McRae back into the game with two fouls and gave Reese his first playing time of the regular season.
The moves paid off, as Tennessee proceeded to go on an 11-0 run to build a double-digit advantage. Reese capped the run by picking up a loose ball in the paint, scoring and drawing a foul. Reese continued making those kinds of hustle plays the rest of the game.
“I thought Derek Reese came in and gave us a big spark,” Martin said. “It’s just a case of a guy being ready at all times, continuing to work on his game, continuing to lift.”
Tennessee also got a big performance from Richardson, who had a total of six points in Tennessee’s last two games. Richardson had 19 points - one off his career high - and eight rebounds.
“(Martin) just called me back to talk to him before the tip,” Richardson said. “He tapped me and he was like, ‘Be aggressive.’”
Tennessee had four players reach double figures even though McRae - the Vols’ leading scorer this season - was held to nine points. Maymon had 16 points and eight rebounds. Stokes had 13 points and nine rebounds.
The efforts of Reese, Maymon and Stokes helped Tennessee post a 49-28 rebounding edge over a Morehead State team that hadn’t been outrebounded all season. Tennessee also had 11 blocks, which represented the Vols’ highest single-game total since March 4, 2000.
Morehead State’s Chad Posthumus entered the night ranked second among all Division I players with 12.4 rebounds per game, but the 6-11 center had just four points and five rebounds before fouling out Monday.
Morehead State coach Sean Woods said the Vols “out-toughed” his team. Woods also noted that Morehead State center Billy Reader was playing with an injured shoulder that prevented him from raising his right arm very high.
“In order for us to have success, we have to win the rebounding deal,” Woods said. “We didn’t, and that’s the reason why we lost.”
Morehead State was coming off a 120-83 victory over South Dakota in which it posted its third-highest point total ever against a Division I opponent in the program’s 85-season history, but the Eagles scored just 12 points in the first 14 minutes of Monday’s game. Tennessee owned a 41-30 halftime lead and put the game away with a 13-0 run to open the second half.
Brent Arrington and Angelo Warner scored 16 points each for Morehead State. Drew Kelly, who had scored 40 points in the South Dakota game, added 13 points. Kelly is the nephew of Chad Clifton, an offensive tackle on Tennessee’s 1998 national championship football team who played 12 seasons for the Green Bay Packers.