KNOXVILLE — Tennessee already is playing the suffocating defense Cuonzo Martin demands of his teams. The Vols’ offense isn’t nearly as far along.
The Volunteers have shot a combined 29-of-94 (29.2 percent) in their two losses, a 62-45 setback against Oklahoma State in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off and a 37-36 defeat to Georgetown in the SEC/Big East Challenge. The Georgetown game Friday represented Tennessee’s second-lowest point total since the introduction of a shot clock in 1985-86, trailing only a 43-35 loss to Auburn on Jan. 15, 1997.
Sophomore forward Jarnell Stokes struggled to recall the last time he’d played a game in which his team only scored 36 points.
“It’s worse than middle school, elementary school,” Stokes said. “I couldn’t tell you.”
Tennessee (4-2) faces another tough chore Wednesday at Virginia (6-2), which was tied for fourth place nationally in scoring defense through Monday’s games. The Cavaliers, who have won five in a row, allow 52.9 points per game and limit opponents to 36.9 percent shooting. Tennessee is giving up 58.8 points per game and is causing opponents to shoot 39 percent.
Even with two quality defenses on the floor, Wednesday’s game can’t help but produce more scoring than Tennessee’s last contest. The loss to Georgetown featured the lowest combined score in a Tennessee game since the Vols’ 11-6 victory over Temple on Dec. 15, 1973, which also marked the last time the Vols held a Division I opponent to as few as 37 points.
The Vols’ 36 points Friday couldn’t quite match the Tennessee football team’s season average of 36.2.
“Fans want to see points,” senior guard Skylar McBee said. “They want a game to be 110-109 rather than 37-36, but I thought both teams played really good defense.”
The Vols’ performance against Georgetown revealed their problems against zone defenses.
Stokes said the Vols didn’t do a good enough job of working the ball inside. Stokes averages 13 points and 7.7 rebounds per game to lead Tennessee in both categories, but he scored four points and attempted just two shots against Georgetown.
“We should have passed the ball quicker,” Stokes said. “I think we telegraphed a lot of our passes and really gave them a heads-up on where the next pass is going. I felt like the high post was open throughout the whole game. I think we just didn’t hit the high post. That’s a brave pass to make.”
Martin said Tennessee didn’t make enough shots and didn’t do a good enough job with its dribble penetration. McBee agreed with Stokes’ assessment that the Vols needed to work the ball to the post more.
“A lot of times when you’re facing a zone, you think about just passing it around the perimeter and eventually you’re going to get a shot,” McBee said. “I think we’ve got to do a better job of being (aware) of that and attacking the zone like Jarnell said. If we do that, we’ll be fine.”
Although Virginia primarily utilizes a man-to-man defense, Stokes wouldn’t be surprised if the Georgetown game causes the Vols to see more zones the rest of the season.
“It definitely teaches us that probably other teams are going to try and play a zone because of how bad we did (against it),” Stokes said.
Tennessee has reason to believe its offense should improve. The Vols are averaging 77.8 points in their four victories. They eventually should get a boost from the addition of senior forward Jeronne Maymon, who hasn’t played all season after having a setback in his recovery from arthroscopic knee surgery. There’s no timetable for Maymon’s return.
The Vols already have proved they can play quality defense. They’ve shown at times they can score. They’re not about to panic over a couple of losses.
“That will never change with me,” Martin said of his steady approach. “We’re six games into a season.”
That gives Tennessee plenty of time to work on the areas that can boost its offense, particularly in attacking zones.
“You’ve got to make shots from the perimeter,” Martin said. “You’ve got to dribble penetrate. And you’ve got to post feed.”comments powered by Disqus