Trae Golden opened the 2011-12 season as hot as any point guard in the SEC. His high numbers in scoring and assists have rivaled Kentucky’s superstar freshman Marquis Teague (10.8 PPG, 4.2 APG) and Florida point guard Erving Walker (13.9 PPG, 5.1 APG), who was named last season’s third team, All-SEC.
However, lack-luster play in losses to Oakland and Austin Peay revealed a fatal flaw for the Volunteers. The team’s success or failure rides on the back of Trae Golden.
The numbers are clear. Despite dominant post play from Kenny Hall and Jeronne Maymon against Austin Peay (who combined for 30 points and 19 rebounds), Tennessee could not overcome Golden’s 1-9 shooting from the floor and 1-5 from the perimeter. The 2-9 Governors, who allowed 90 points to Middle Tennessee State just two weeks before, held the sophomore point guard scoreless for 31 minutes before he finally earned a trip to the foul line.
In the 89-81 loss at Oakland, Jordan McRae’s career high 25 points and four rebounds were not enough to compensate for Golden’s abysmal 4-11 shooting with one assist.
Golden’s defensive play has been suspect as well. Both Reggie Hamilton of Oakland and Austin Peay’s Josh Terry had statistically their best games of the season against the Vols. Hamilton almost single handily beat Tennessee with 35 points, six rebounds and three assists, while Terry (who scored just nine points against Lipscomb) put up 20 points, five assists and four steals in Governors’ win at Thompson-Boling Arena.
Conversely, Golden was dominant in wins over UNC Greensboro, Louisiana-Monroe and Chaminade, averaging 21 points and nine assists. In their double overtime loss to high scoring Memphis in Maui, Golden overcame his poor shooting (3-19 from the field) with defense to hold the Tigers’ guards to just 11 assists combined. Against 15th ranked Pitt, Golden and company held Panthers’ starting guards Ashton Gibbs and Cameron Wright to a combined 7-27 from the floor. Wright was held scoreless.
In the December 12 Knoxville News Sentinel, coach Cuonzo Martin hinted he might consider a lineup change in response to the embarrassing loss to Austin Peay. With a road test against the College of Charleston (76.0 PPG) looming and conference play just over three weeks away, resolving Golden’s inconsistent play is paramount to Tennessee’s success this season.