RALEIGH — Tennessee didn’t look anything like an 11th seed Friday.
Playing their second NCAA tournament game this week, the Volunteers seized control early and cruised past sixth-seeded Massachusetts 86-67 before 16,988 fans at PNC Arena.
Tennessee, an overtime winner against Iowa in the first round Wednesday night, will play Sunday against 14th-seeded Mercer for a berth in the Midwest Region semifinals.
Junior forward Jarnell Stokes paced Tennessee’s powerful inside game with a career-high 26 points and 14 rebounds. He made 12-of-13 free throws and scored 20 of his points in the second half but had plenty of help.
Backcourt combo Jordan McRae got 21 pointsand Josh Richardson 15, and Jeronne Maymon contributed 11, nine in the first half when the Vols (23-12) jumped to a commanding lead.
A pair of 6-foot-8, 260-pound bookend posts, Stokes and Maymon personified Tennessee’s power game, what former Auburn coach Sonny Smith used to call “wide, not high.”
UMass coach Derek Kellogg knew exactly what the problem was: “The 37 (points) and 25 (rebounds) the big guys had, their size and strength in the post. And they’ve been been playing their best basketball in the last few weeks.”
Tennessee has won seven of its past eight games, with the only loss coming in the SEC semifinal to South Region No. 1 seed Florida.
“It’s hard to double Stokes because Maymon is on the other side ready to seal you if you do,” Kellogg said. “Stokes also got a bunch of points against our press, which I didn’t expect.”
UMass forward Sampson Carter offered his own perspective.
“He has a big lower body,” said Carter, who was giving away 40 pounds to Stokes. “He has a strong upper body, but he has a big lower body. He kinds of seals with his arms and is tough to get around. You can tell he’s been taught well.
“Coming into this game, my mindset wasn’t to score the ball,” Stokes said. “I was worried about their point guard Chaz Williams getting into the lane. We held him under his averages.”
Williams and Maxie Esho led UMass (24-9) with 12 points each.
“He’s so fast,” Vols coach Cuonzo Martin said of Williams. “I think that’s been one of the biggest improvements in Jarnell’s game with his ball screen defense.
“We wanted to corral him as much as possible, make him make the extra pass and not dump it down inside.”
The Volunteers utilized two 9-0 scoring runs in the first half behind Maymon and McRae to open up a double-figure lead before the game was eight minutes old. UMass contributed to its problems with turnovers, committing 10 of its 13 in the first half, leading to 11 Tennessee points.
Maymon’s offensive stickback capped the first run and gave the Vols a 21-8 lead at 11:33, and his reverse layup at 5:28 made it 32-14.
McRae’s 3-pointer with 8.3 seconds left in the half upped the count to 41-22 at intermission. UMass cut the lead to 10 points at 48-38 on a Williams jumper at 13:48, but the Vols regained control with a 7-0 run as Williams turned the ball over on two successive possessions.
McRae’s three-point play upped the count to 55-38 at 12:41, and UMass never got closer than 15 points again.
Martin also thought playing Wednesday helped his team.
“I thought we got out of the gates and played well at both ends of the floor,” he said. “We set a physical tone early, played physical without fouling. They made a run in the second half, which we knew they would, but we maintained our composure.”