“I didn’t when it left my hands, but as it kept going I thought, ‘OK, this thing has a chance of going in,’ and it went in clean,” the Tennessee guard said.
Barton and his Tennessee teammates just couldn’t seem to miss as they cruised to an 87-52 win against Virginia on Monday night.
Jordan McRae scored 21 points and Josh Richardson and Jarnell Stokes each added 20 for the Vols (8-4). Tennessee’s 48 first-half points were the most allowed by Virginia since giving up 55 to Washington on Nov. 22, 2010.
Tennessee scored first and never trailed. The Cavaliers (9-4) left the hot-handed Richardson open in front of their bench, and Richardson cleanly sank a 3 that gave the Vols a 27-11 lead with 10:53 in the first half and, ultimately, control of the game.
The Vols had been sluggish on offense in recent weeks but shot 57.7 percent from the field and 8-for-11 from 3 in the first half, including Barton’s buzzer-beating shot that gave them a 48-26 halftime lead.
“When you make shots, that’s what you look like,” coach Cuonzo Martin said. The 35-point margin of victory was the largest in his coaching tenure at Tennessee.
Tennessee managed to keep Virginia off-balance on offense, though the Cavaliers struggled with open looks too, shooting just 32.7 percent from the field.
Virginia coach Tony Bennett said his team had looked solid in practices leading up to the game and that he “wasn’t expecting us to come out and perform like this.” The Cavaliers entered the contest allowing just 54.2 points per game and lost by a combined 16 points in its three previous losses of the season.
“They were hot, but . we were disjointed,” he said. “We looked slow, we looked tired, we looked delayed in our reactions. Every mistake we made, they capitalized on.”
Justin Anderson led Virginia with 11 points, and Mike Tobey added 10.
“We just got out-toughed, outplayed, outworked, out-everythinged. It was just really embarrassing,” Cavaliers guard Joe Harris said.
Virginia scored the first two baskets after halftime, but it was as close as the Cavaliers would get.
It was a far cry from last year’s meeting between the two teams in Charlottesville. Virginia held the Vols to their third-lowest point total since the 1985 introduction of the shot clock en route to a 46-38 win on Dec. 5, 2012. Tennessee surpassed that point total with a 3-pointer by Barton with 4:36 left in the first half that made it 39-15.
Both teams reached the NIT last season and had set their expectations for the 2013-14 season higher with NCAA tournament hopes. Instead, they’ve both stumbled through the first half of the season.
Tennessee entered the game having won just six of its first 10 to continue its recent history of sluggish starts. Virginia posted consecutive losses at home to No. 4 Wisconsin — ranked eighth at the time — and at Green Bay before bouncing back with victories over Northern Iowa and Norfolk State in its last two games.
The victory was an especially important NCAA resume-building win for the Vols, who face a weaker conference lineup.
“This is what we could and should look like,” Martin said.