"We had so many close games we just had to figure out how to win," Stokes said. "We finally figured it out, and this is the right time to know."
The first-round win over Iowa in overtime was a watershed moment of sorts because the Vols finally closed out a tight game. They carried that momentum into big wins over No. 6 seed Massachusetts and No. 14 Mercer to advance to Indianapolis.
"We put so much into it, to be able to prove our doubters wrong is nice," junior guard Richardson said.
That's not the reason that Martin is pleased so far. The only numbers that have mattered to him are the 15 guys in his locker room.
"It's more than winning basketball games on the floor, it's developing young men and getting it done in the classroom," Martin said. "That's the approach I take. I don't get consumed by anything else outside of that because it's time and energy wasted on my clock."
As much as they tried to stay away from social media, the players couldn't help hearing the chatter. But instead of becoming a distraction, playing for Martin became a focus. Senior guard Jordan McRae said the team viewed Martin as more than just a coach.
He often texts his players messages that have more to do with life than with basketball. He has been known to quote Scripture when the message is applicable.
"People just see what he does on the court. He does a lot for us as people and he's helping us become men," McRae said. "When it got to the point where people were saying what they were saying, you've got to fight for somebody like that."
Those same qualities that kept him from being entertaining to the fans were the same qualities that endeared him to the players. They appreciated his consistency more than anything else.
"When things get hard he doesn't ever change; we know what we're going to get from him," forward Jeronne Maymon said. "That's what made us so confident in him. He stayed the same every day, so it was like, 'If he's not changing, why should we?'"