The Vols (7-3) have won three straight games despite continuing their season-long struggles from beyond the 3-point arc. Tennessee is making 29.6 percent of its 3-point shots (48 of 162) to rank ahead of only Mississippi State among Southeastern Conference teams.
Tennessee can't afford to continue shooting that poorly as it enters a tougher portion of its schedule. The Vols host Xavier (7-4) on Saturday and Memphis on Jan. 4 before closing a six-game home stand Jan. 6 with its SEC opener against Ole Miss.
"We definitely have to get (the 3-point percentage) up," senior guard Skylar McBee said. "We're doing a good job right now of attacking the rim and getting to the free-throw line. As long as we keep doing that, we'll be in position to win."
McBee's health may explain why Tennessee is hurting from 3-point range.
The 6-foot-3 senior is the Vols' best outside shooter, but he tore the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow during a 37-36 loss to Georgetown on Nov. 30. The diagnosis caught McBee by surprise because his injury is more closely associated with another sport.
"I knew what that injury was, but I'd never seen it in basketball," McBee said. "It's always a baseball injury."
McBee is playing through the injury, but he has shot 25.9 percent (7 of 27) from 3-point range in the four games since he got hurt. McBee said at the start of the season that he wanted to shoot 40 percent from beyond the arc, but he's only making 34 percent of his 3-point attempts (19 of 58) thus far. He made 39.1 percent of his 3-pointers last season.
"I don't think you can say (the injury) is what's making me shoot bad," McBee said. "Shooting's about rhythm and feel. It's just one of those things I've got to get used to. There's like a catch in it when I fully extend (my elbow). It's not that much pain, but it's just uncomfortable."
Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin says McBee's injury isn't hindering his shot. Martin also prefers not to call McBee's recent stretch a slump.
"In my opinion, when you're having a slump, those shots are way off," Martin said. "(McBee's) shots are right around the rim, coming in and out. I think he's fine."
McBee isn't the only Tennessee player struggling from beyond the arc.
The Vols have shot 23.5 percent (19 of 81) from 3-point range over their last five games. Tennessee is continuing to win because it has effectively driven to the basket rather than settling for outside shots. During its winning streak, Tennessee has shot 72 of 94 from the foul line while its opponents have gone 26 of 38.
Junior guard D'Montre Edwards (5 of 12) is the only Vol who has made more than one-third of his 3-point attempts. Junior guard Trae Golden is making 28.6 of his 3-point shots, down from 38.8 percent last season.
But McBee is the guy who could reverse the Vols' fortunes from beyond the arc most quickly.
When McBee has scored in double figures during his career, Tennessee has gone 15-2. He made a team-high 63 3-pointers last season and had the team's best 3-point percentage of anyone with at least nine attempts.
McBee's teammates still have plenty of confidence in him even as he plays through the injury.
"I know that's a hard injury to come (back) from, but I don't see any ill effects from it," Golden said. "He still shoots the ball very well. I commend him for that because for me, that would be tough. I think it would be tough for anybody. I really commend him for that. I don't think people realize the extent of that injury. That's a really tough injury."
McBee isn't using the injury as an excuse. He's just trying to make sure his shooting struggles don't impact the other facets of his game.
"Sometimes the shots aren't going to fall," McBee said. "Hopefully I pick up the slack with my effort on defense. Really, it's all about giving us a chance to win. I'm not really concerned so much about my individual numbers. Of course, if I'm shooting 40 percent from three, it does give us a better chance to win, so I'm definitely trying to raise that up."