KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin knew that the work Yemi Makanjuola put in at practice would eventually pay dividends. The speed with which it did was a bit of a surprise.
Makanjuola had a career-high 18 points and 11 rebounds off the bench to help Tennessee keep The Citadel at bay in an 86-55 victory Thursday night.
Seven of Makanjuola's rebounds came on the offensive end, and the big man turned those boards into points. He scored all 18 of his points consecutively over an 8:43 stretch, starting when he put back a missed free throw by Renaldo Woolridge to give the Volunteers a 62-38 lead with 10:48 to play.
"I'm not surprised. I knew eventually it would come at some point, maybe next year," Martin said. "I just think you're happy for a guy who puts the work in and doesn't complain and puts his head down and works every day and doesn't make excuses."
By the time he hit his final points, tipping in a missed shot by Jordan McRae for a 78-48 lead with 2:31 left, Makanjuola had well surpassed his previous career highs of six points and seven rebounds, both set in the Vols' win against Chaminade earlier in the season. Makanjuola moved to the United States two years ago from Lagos, Nigeria, and has only been playing basketball for about six years.
"The guy coming off the bench killed us. We did not expect that," Bulldogs coach Chuck Driesell said.
While Makanjuola did his work with a comfortable lead, it was Skylar McBee's 12 points in the first half that helped Tennessee pull away for its biggest margin of victory this season.
As Tennessee's post players drew the attention of The Citadel's zone defense, McBee and Cameron Tatum were left open on the perimeter.
"Yeah, they shot the ball extremely well," Driesell said. "We tried to mix it up on them — a little man, a little zone, a little trapping — but they handled it really well and they got going."
Tennessee held a 16-14 lead, when a pair of 3s by McBee launched a 15-3 run, and Tatum hit another trey with 4:31 before halftime that pushed the margin to 31-17. McBee finished the half 4 of 5 from 3-point range but did not score again in the second half.
"Whatever I have to do to come in and help our team and give us the best chance to win, that's what I'm going to do," McBee said. "Some nights that may be taking more shots, and some nights it may just be playing good defense. Whatever that role is, I'm going to come in and do it to the best of my abilities."
Trae Golden and Woolridge each scored 10 points for the Vols, who shot 55.9 percent (33 of 59) and cleared their bench by the end of the game. They outscored The Citadel 42-22 in the paint and held a 40-27 rebounding edge.
Mike Groselle, who entered the game averaging 15.8 points, led The Citadel (2-10) with 21 points.
The Bulldogs hit 39.3 percent (22 of 56) in their eighth straight loss.
The 31-point victory was a much-needed shot of confidence for a Tennessee team that lost four straight between Nov. 28 and Dec. 14 and will play five games in January against teams currently ranked among the top 15 in the nation. Since then, the Vols had to come from behind to earn narrow wins against UNC Asheville and East Tennessee State.
"It was nice to get a big win, and hopefully we keep doing that," McBee said. "The schedule only gets tougher from here, so we're just going to try and get better every day. Hopefully the wins take care of themselves."