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Was Saturday the breakout game Jarnell Stokes needed?

Jan 29, 2013, 12:46 PM EDT

Jarnell Stokes, Murphy Holloway

Jarnell Stokes found his way onto every breakout stars list that was released back in October.

That’s what happens when you enter college in January of what should be your senior year in high school and proceed to average 9.6 points and 7.4 boards for a team that finished second in the SEC.

Stokes hasn’t been bad this season. He’s averaging 11.1 points and 8.1 boards on the year. But he’s become the second-fiddle to Jordan McRae in part because Tennessee couldn’t win with him as the centerpiece.

Part of the reason is that Stokes has spent the majority of the season facing double teams without last year’s front court mate — Jeronne Maymon — on the floor with him.

“I definitely have been frustrated this season,” Stokes told the Tennessean. “This has been one of the most frustrating seasons, the way we’ve lost, getting two fouls early in a game and having to sit out an entire half. It’s just frustrating. Double-teams and sometimes triple-teams, I haven’t gotten used to it. I just didn’t anticipate that coming into the season. I expected to get a double-double every game.”

But head coach Cuonzo Martin has a different theory about Stokes’ troubles. He said this to Go Vols Extra on Friday after losing to Ole Miss:

“I don’t think any of the officials are going out saying, ‘OK, I’m going to make bad calls on (Jarnell Stokes),’ ” Martin told the News Sentinel by phone Friday. “I don’t think that’s ever the case. I just think that as a physical presence, there’s a certain way he has to be allowed to play. If it’s a foul, it’s a foul, on my team or the other team. Looking at those fouls last night, I don’t think they were the best calls on Jarnell.”

A season-long Catch-22 is now No. 1 on the agenda.

[...]

“In this particular case, the guy has to be allowed to play basketball,” Martin said. … “He’s big, allow him to be big.”

Martin made a call to the SEC’s coordinator of official after a loss to Kentucky more than two weeks ago. He told Go Vols Extra he would be making another one on Friday. And on Tuesday, Stokes not only went for 15 points and a career-high 18 boards, but he got the benefit of a close-call in the final seconds that won the game for Tennessee (jump to the 5:00 mark of the video):

Cuonzo Martin has never gotten a technical foul in his career, but don’t tell me he doesn’t know how to work the refs.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

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