Trae Golden wasn’t gone long.
After sitting out two games with a hamstring injury, the Tennessee point guard returned Sunday against South Carolina and provided the Vols had been missing – another scoring option. Golden scored 16 points off the bench in a 66-61 victory and demanded attention from the Gamecocks.
His presence allowed some wiggle room for Jarnell Stokes, who scored 20 points and grabbed 10 rebounds for his fifth straight double-double. The forward was named the Southeastern Conference’s Player of the Week on Monday.
Golden and Stokes propelled the Vols (12-10, 4-6) to their first road win and hope to make it two straight when they play at Vanderbilt (9-13, 3-7) on Wednesday (7 p.m., SEC Network).
“Having that ball handler out there, that decision-maker, that guy who can score the basketball for you, it really helps,” coach Cuonzo Martin said on the SEC coaches teleconference Monday. “I thought Trae was the old Trae for us in attacking and being aggressive.”
Golden began his junior season as a starter but has come off the bench since mid-January. He ranks third on the team in scoring (10.3 points per game) and first in assists (3.8 per game).
His last time out against Vanderbilt, on Jan. 29, he injured his hamstring late in the first half of a 58-57 win. He sat out the next two games – both losses.
Against South Carolina, he was 4-of-8 from the field and 8-of-10 at the free-throw line. He bailed out leading scorer Jordan McRae, who missed six of seven shots and scored only seven points.
Even more so, his aggressive offense cleared the floor for others.
“I think in the case of Jarnell it frees [him] up,” Martin said. “Because now [with Golden] you’ve got another guy who can make a shot, who can make a play so it is tough for teams to really collapse on Jarnell at the level they’ve been doing in the past. When Trae is attacking and scoring that’s when we’re at our best and he’s at his best.”
His performance against the Gamecocks helped the Vols get out of a rut.
Not only had they lost two straight but they were winless on the road, coming up short in their first six attempts. Martin hopes eking out a win away from Knoxville will bring confidence to his squad after losing five road games by 10 points or less.
“I think they’re like a lot of teams in the league – it depends on when you catch them,” Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said. “Some guys look good for them on some days and other guys look good on other days – kind of like our team. The one constant for them has been Stokes. He has been awesome lately. I’m sure getting Golden is back is a boost to them. He played awfully well [Sunday] I thought at South Carolina. They’re a good team and they’re going to play hard and play physically. I’m sure it will be a very physical game.”