BAYAMON, Puerto Rico - Tennessee placed five players in double figures but had to hold off a late UNC Asheville comeback as the Volunteers slipped past the Bulldogs, 75-68 in the first round of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off Tournament at Coliseo Ruben Rodriguez.
Asheville (1-2) plays Akron tomorrow afternoon at 1 p.m. EST in the second round. The game can be seen on ESPN3 and be heard on WWNC Radio (570-AM) with the pre-game show at 12:30 p.m.
Jeremy Atkinson led all scorers with 18 points. He collected nine rebounds and went 8-for-9 from the free throw line. Jon Nwannunu finished with 12 points, while D.J. Cunningham had 12 points. Freshman Will Weeks added nine points.
Tennessee (2-0) was led by Jarnell Stokes with 16 points and 11 rebounds. Trae Golden contributed 14 points and five assists.
Trent Meyer of Asheville had six assists and four steals on the day.
"I was proud of our guys today. We played hard and didn't give up," stated Asheville coach Eddie Biedenbach. "We battled hard for 40 minutes against a very good and athletic Tennessee team.
"I thought in the second half we did a much better job on offense than what we've been doing early in the season," added Biedenbach. "We executed better, took better shots and didn't turn the ball over. If we can keep executing like that throughout the year, we'll be a good team."
Tennessee and UNC Asheville played even for the first 13 minutes as the game stood tied at 19. The Vols took the lead at 20-19 on a layup by Golden with 8:12 left in the first half. The lead extended to eight at 30-22 on a desperation 3-pointer by Jordan McRae as the shot clock expired with 4:49 left in the first half.
Josh Richardson's pair of free throws moved the margin to double-figures for the first time with two minutes left in the half at 36-26. The Vols led 38-28 at halftime.
In the second half, Tennessee quickly built the lead to 17 at 50-33 on a Stokes dunk with 15:42 left. However, that was as big a lead as the Vols would have as the Bulldogs slowly crept back in the game.
UNC Asheville cut the deficit to less than 10 for the first time in the second half on an Atkinson dunk after Keith Hornsby stole the ball. That put the Bulldogs within 66-58 with four minutes left. Asheville had a chance to get closer but couldn't finish around the basket.
Tennessee went 9-of-10 from the charity stripe in the final three minutes to keep the Bulldogs at bay. Hornsby scored all nine of his points in the final 10 minutes to help Asheville get closer.
The Blue & White shot a season-high .500 (23-of-46) from the field and went 21-of-29 (.724) from the charity stripe. Tennessee also shot .500 from the field as the Vols went 26-of-52). UT held a big edge on the boards with a 37-25 advantage.
Asheville had nine turnovers in the opening half that led to 15 Tennessee points. The Bulldogs had just two turnovers in the second half.
The Bulldogs had a season-low 11 turnovers after committing more than 20 in the first two games of the season...Asheville fell to 0-9 vs. Tennessee...this will be the first ever meeting between Akron and UNC Asheville...Jeremy Atkinson has led the Bulldogs in scoring each game this season...