McBee worthy of Vols’ trust
Posted: Thursday, February 9, 2012 7:00 pm
By BETH RUCKER
AP Sports Writer
KNOXVILLE (AP) — Tennessee’s Skylar McBee is dangerous enough from the perimeter to deserve attention from opposing teams. It’s the sharpshooter’s defense that’s drawn the attention of his own coach.
Coach Cuonzo Martin rewarded McBee’s tough defensive play with a spot in the starting lineup in back-to-back games, the first two starts of the junior’s career. McBee answered with a career-high 18 points in the Volunteers’ 69-57 win against South Carolina on Wednesday night, their 10th straight in the series.
“I think I just bring my hard hat every day to practice,” McBee said of earning a spot in the starting lineup. “For me, it’s not about starting or coming off the bench, it’s just playing as hard as I can play.”
Trae Golden scored 14 points, and Jeronne Maymon added 12 points for the Vols. Cameron Tatum hit a pair of 3s in the game, the second marking his 1,000th career point.
McBee’s second trey of the game gave the Vols (12-12, 4-5 Southeastern Conference) the ultimate lead with 2:01 left in a first half that featured six ties and six lead changes. The basket launched an 8-0 run to close out the half, and Tennessee led 35-27 at the break.
Tennessee, which went 10-of-20 from behind the arc, hit seven straight 3-point attempts stretching from the end of the first half to the beginning of the second. The Vols took only 38 shots total, hitting half, and went 21-for-26 at the free-throw line.
“You’ve got a chance to win a lot of ball games when you play that way,” Martin said.
After a month that included five games against ranked opponents, the Vols are hoping to do just that over the next few weeks.
Martin’s shuffling of the lineup has helped. Tennessee has made changes to its starting five in four different games, and each one has resulted in a win.
Kenny Hall started against the Gamecocks after coming off the bench for nine games and grabbed a team-high 10 rebounds. Hall replaced forward Jarnell Stokes, who suffered a mild injury to his wrist during practice this week, but Martin said Hall had earned the spot just the same.
“I thought he was special on the defensive side of the ball,” Martin said. “The last two or three days, as a staff, we felt like he was really making his stride.”
The Vols had entered the game limiting opponents to 60.6 points, the second-best scoring defense in the SEC.
Tennessee’s defense broke down midway through the second half. The Vols led 51-36 with 12:40 left, but South Carolina went on an 8-0 run of its own.
“We kept telling our guys when they got their lead that we got to get some stops,” Gamecocks coach Darrin Horn said. “It doesn’t matter if we score every time down the floor. We have to get stops to cut this lead where we are able to put a few together back to back. Ended up getting a couple of easy ones. Got to the foul line a few times and were able to get it down to a two-possession game.”
The Gamecocks (9-14, 1-8) pulled within 58-55 on a three-point play by Bruce Ellington with 4:07 left, but it was as close as they would get. Ellington led South Carolina with 12 points.
Though South Carolina couldn’t fully match Tennessee’s size in the frontcourt, the Gamecocks managed to keep the Vols away from the basket by firmly planting their feet. The Vols were called for three charges in the first half alone and finished with just 12 points in the paint.
Tennessee outrebounded South Carolina 34-30 but turned the ball over 14 times, leading to 18 points for the Gamecocks.
South Carolina couldn’t get any clean looks around its own basket and relied mostly on its guards, who kept the Gamecocks in control for much of the first half.
Ellington said he and his teammates will continue to focus on 3-point defense even after spending quite a bit of time on it in practice this week.
“It was a couple of defensive breakdowns, but we worked on that all day,” he said. “We worked on that all practice, trying to stop the 3. They got a couple off at the end of the first half, so you know we go into practice next week and work on that.”
Published in The Messenger 2.9.12