Latest to scare Vol men is UTM
Posted: Thursday, December 30, 2010 4:39 pm
By: By BETH RUCKER, AP Sports Writer
KNOXVILLE (AP) — Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl still isn’t sure who belongs out on the court for the Volunteers.
As the Vols struggled on Wednesday night against yet another mid-major opponent, Pearl continuously tinkered with the lineup. By halftime, he’d gone through 12 players and UT Martin still had a four-point lead.
“We are consistently inconsistent,” Pearl said. “If you’re asking the head coach who he wants to have out there, the head coach still doesn’t know who he wants out there. That’s a scary thing to be in January and not really know.”
The deep rotation did just enough for the Vols to pull out a 68-62 win over the Skyhawks, their second straight narrow victory.
The Skyhawks, who are 1-8 on the road this season and lost at No. 2 Ohio State by 60 points on Monday, held a five-point lead with 14:23 to go against the Volunteers. Tennessee then used an 11-3 run to take a 50-47 lead with 9:39 left.
The teams traded the lead twice and tied four times before Tobias Harris scored two layups and hit two pairs of free throws to help Tennessee (9-3) pull away.
“We didn’t do much as coaches. We called the defense and called the offense, but the kids made the plays and they kept us in the game,” UT Martin coach Jason James said. “The kids performed tonight, they just didn’t do it for 40 minutes.”
Scotty Hopson led Tennessee with 17 points. Harris didn’t start because post-Christmas travel problems caused him to miss practice on Tuesday, but he finished with 13 points and 10 rebounds.
Reuben Clayton came off the bench to score 21 points for UT Martin (4-10). Terence Smith scored 10, and Dane Smith grabbed 12 rebounds.
After winning their first seven games and climbing to as high as No. 7 in the Associated Press Top 25, the Vols fell out of the poll on Monday after a stretch of games that included three losses and a one-point win over Belmont.
“I’m not going to be too terribly negative,” Pearl said. “In spite of the fact that we’re not playing great, we’re trying to bring more positive energy to the guys and try to give them as best I can more confidence in what I think they can do well.”
The Skyhawks shot 51.7 percent before halftime and scored 10 unanswered points late in the first half to grab a 36-32 lead at the break after scoring just 40 points against the Buckeyes. They also outrebounded the Vols 17-12 in the first half.
“A staple of our basketball program is that for 40 minutes we are going to battle, scratch and fight,” James said. “Tonight, for about 37 minutes I thought we performed. We took a big step from Monday (100-40 loss at No. 2 Ohio State) to here. I’m proud of those guys in that locker room.
“Their effort for most of the game was good enough to win.”
Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl went through 12 players on his bench trying to find the right combination of offense and defense. The Vols shot 44.4 percent in the first half but struggled against the zone defense as they’d done in losses to Charlotte and Southern California and a one-point win over Belmont.
“I feel like they were real vulnerable, and I know their heads are probably down since they’ve been down this year,” Clayton said. “I just told my guys come in and play hard and go with them and we can have a close game with them, and we did.”
Tennessee’s pressure improved by the very end, and the Vols managed to limit UT Martin to 25.9 percent shooting in the second half and kept the Skyhawks from getting a field goal in the final 5:27 of the game.
“We’ve got to man up and just come out and play with that fierce aggression,” Hopson said. “We’ve got to get back to it. We were beating teams by a lot more and were being a lot more successful. We were playing like men. I think we’ve got to get back to doing that.”
The Skyhawks will return to Ohio Valley Conference action on Monday at Southeast Missouri. Tip-off is slated for 8 p.m.