Tennessee 66, W. Carolina 52
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP)
The Volunteers (7-3) are 300-104 at Thompson-Boling Arena, their home floor since the 1987-88 season.
Josh Richardson and Jarnell Stokes added 12 points each for Tennessee, while Trae Golden had 10 points. Tennessee's Kenny Hall had nine points and a career-high 13 rebounds. Trey Sumler scored 23 points and Brandon Boggs had 15 for Western Carolina (4-8).
The Vols went 30 of 42 on free throws, while Western Carolina was 8 of 11.
Tennessee made just three baskets in the entire first half but still led 22-18 at the intermission because it played solid defense and continually got to the foul line. The Vols were 3 of 21 overall, 0 of 7 from 3-point range and 16 of 20 from the line in the first half.
Western Carolina committed 30 fouls in the game as the Catamounts swarmed Tennessee forward Jarnell Stokes virtually every time he got the ball near the basket. That foul trouble eventually sealed Western Carolina's fate.
Before the Vols pulled away with a late 18-2 run, all the elements for an upset seemed in place.
Tennessee's Kenny Hall converted a three-point play to open the scoring, but the Vols would go nearly 10 1/2 minutes before making their next basket. Tennessee missed 14 of its first 15 shots as Western Carolina built a 10-point lead.
Nothing worked for the Vols in the early going.
After sitting out each of the Vols' last two games because walk-on Brandon Lopez had replaced him in the rotation, backup point guard Armani Moore returned to action Friday and went right back to the bench after picking up three fouls in two minutes.
The Vols regained the lead by outscoring Western Carolina 18-4 over the last nine minutes of the first half. Tennessee staged much of that comeback without a true point guard on the floor. McRae, a versatile shooting guard, ran the offense while Golden briefly rested.
Tennessee exceeded its first-half basket total in the first four minutes of the second half, but the Vols couldn't put the Catamounts away. James Sinclair's jumper gave Western Carolina a 38-37 lead with 11:57 remaining.
But the Vols responded with an 18-2 run and never looked back. Richardson and Hall teamed up to score the first 10 points of that spurt, while Skylar McBee capped the run by sinking a 3-pointer that gave the Vols a 15-point lead with 4:11 left.
Richardson scored 10 of his 12 points after halftime and made all five of his second-half shots. Hall, who had sat out a 78-62 victory over Presbyterian on Tuesday because of a strained hamstring, was one point away from his first double-double of the season.