Baulkman, defense spark Tennessee past Mercer 64-54
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee’s Devon Baulkman surprised even himself.
Baulkman scored a career-high 22 points off the bench Monday as Tennessee held Mercer without a basket for an 11-minute stretch in the Volunteers’ 64-54 victory.
“I did not see it coming,” Baulkman said.
Baulkman, a transfer from Gulf Coast (Florida) State College, hadn’t scored more than 10 points in any game before his breakthrough performance.
“I just came into the game just positively focused and just on a mission,” Baulkman said. “The mission was to come in, rebound and knock down open shots.”
He did all that and more.
Baulkman pulled down six rebounds and shot 7 of 9 from the field, including 4 of 6 from 3-point range. The 6-foot-5 guard also scored seven points in a game-clinching 10-1 run.
“I always say with junior-college guys, it takes about a semester,” Tennessee coach Donnie Tyndall said. “Usually these guys start turning the corner about January. Kevin Punter is probably an exception because he’s such a professional at everything he does, but (Baulkman) is turning the corner and that’s obviously going to help our team.”
Baulkman’s big night helped Tennessee (6-4) withstand a huge performance from Mercer’s Ike Nwamu, who scored a career-high 30 points and shot 6 of 11 from 3-point range.
“I would rather have five points and a win,” Nwamu said.
This early-season matchup pitted two teams who faced each other in the last two postseasons. Tennessee beat Mercer 83-63 in last year’s NCAA tournament after losing to the Bears 75-67 in the 2013 NIT.
Both teams have changed quite a bit since. Tennessee guard Josh Richardson was the only player on the floor Monday who started in last season’s NCAA tournament matchup. The Vols also have changed coaches, with Tyndall arriving from Southern Mississippi after California hired away Cuonzo Martin.
“We’re still trying to find ourselves, and I know they are too,” Mercer coach Bob Hoffman said. “I thought it was a really good, competitive college basketball game with a lot of energy and a lot of guys making plays. Ike played his tail off.”
Tennessee ended the first half on a 19-2 run and scored the first basket of the second half to grab a 14-point advantage before Darious Moten sank a jumper with 18:45 left, a play that marked Mercer’s first basket by someone other than Nwamu.
Nwamu made 4 of 8 shots for 11 points in the first half. His Mercer (6-6) teammates were 0 of 14 for two points.
Mercer reduced the deficit to 43-39 before Baulkman sparked a 10-1 spurt with a 3-pointer, a steal, a layup and a putback.
Mercer: The trip to Tennessee began a six-game road swing for the Bears, whose next home game is Jan. 10 against The Citadel.
Tennessee: The Vols started their seventh different lineup. Freshman guard Detrick Mostella made his first career start alongside Richardson, Punter, Armani Moore and Willie Carmichael.
Tennessee outscored Mercer 33-2 in bench points and 26-8 in points in the paint. ... Baulkman has shot 8 of 11 from 3-point range over his last three games.
QUOTE OF THE NIGHT
“We’ll come back and practice the morning of the 24th and the evening of the 25th. I’ll have the guys over to my house for a nice Christmas dinner. I told them that’s the life of Division I athletics. You don’t get to go home for Thanksgiving during basketball season, and you don’t get to go home for Christmas. All these guys want to play in the NBA. The NBA plays on Christmas Day.” - Tyndall discussing his team’s Christmas schedule after the Vols get Tuesday off.
Mercer: At Georgia on Saturday
Tennessee: Hosts Tennessee State on Saturday