Cuonzo Martin’s analysis of Jeronne Maymon’s recent struggles in the paint is that Tennessee’s power forward is “in the next phase.’’
That’s a nice way of saying Maymon hasn’t replicated his magical Maui performance nor shown he can perform at his peak level on a consistent basis.
In his talks with Maymon leading up to Saturday (TV: CSS, noon) against Austin Peay (1-9) at Thompson-Boling Arena, UT’s coach has broken it down in a different way.
“I need to get back to doing what I was doing before, like Coach Martin says, ‘playing ugly,’ ’’ said Maymon, who jumped on the national radar with a 32-point, 20-rebound effort in a 99-97 double-overtime loss to Memphis in the Maui Invitational on Nov. 22.
Against Pittsburgh last Saturday, Maymon’s rebounding was plenty ugly, but not in the way Martin prefers.
Instead of throwing his hulking 6-foot-7, 263-pound frame around in inspirational fashion, as he did with double-doubles against Duke and the rival Tigers in Hawaii — Maymon was pushed around and outplayed by Pittsburgh’s Nasir Robinson.
Maymon scored 12 points but managed just one rebound — in the closing moments of the game — while the Panthers’ forward scored 16 points and pulled down 12 boards, including nine off the offensive glass.
It was the difference in last Saturday’s 61-56 defeat, which dropped UT to 3-4, though neither Martin nor Maymon’s teammates put it that bluntly.
“I don’t know what happened,’’ Maymon said. “I still have high expectations for myself, because I know what I’ve been through and how hard I’ve worked.
“Last year, I hit a snag, and this season I have a chance to show what I’m made of.’’
Martin brushed off any possible excuses for Maymon when asked if the junior forward was perhaps putting too much pressure on himself.
“As a basketball player, if you allow that to happen, that’s the next phase, and you have to grow through it,’’ Martin said. “I don’t talk to him about it. It’s over and done. If he’s putting that pressure on himself, that’s part of his growth.’’
Maymon, a former two-time Wisconsin high school player of the year who’s averaging 13.1 points and 7.7 rebounds per game this season, insists that external pressures are a positive, if anything.
“The expectations people have for me just make me want it even more,’’ Maymon said. “Last year, we used to talk about what would happen if I was playing. Well, now I’m playing, and it’s time to show out.’’
Slow Motion?: Martin was saying earlier this week that, “as a coach, this is your favorite time of year.’’
The one-week break between games has given Martin and his staff time to apply more facets of the motion offense into the Vols’ scheme.
UT point guard Trae Golden, who’s averaging 6.1 assists per game to go with his team-high 16.3-point scoring output, said things are coming along slowly.
“It’s something we have to get better at; of course we’ll be better at it in two months,’’ he said. “It takes a lot of reading and executing.’’
Golden has made most of his plays off dribble drives, but with more motion action his assists could come in different ways.
“For me, a lot of times it’s a case of looking at who we have on the wings, and seeing who’s in position to do what,’’ Golden said. “You read the defense, because some teams will alternate man(-to-man) defense and zone defense, and you go from there.
“I think the teams that keep their defenses geared toward me will open up other opportunities for my teammates.’’
Free Throws: The Vols are shooting 74.5 percent from the free-throw line this season, a marked improvement from last season’s 68.4.
This, despite the fact three departed starters ranked among team leaders: Melvin Goins 77.9 percent, Tobias Harris 75.3 percent and Scotty Hopson at 73.5 percent.
Jordan McRae leads UT at 86.4 percent after shooting 45.5 last season, Maymon is shooting 74.3 percent from last season’s 25 percent, Kenny Hall is at 75 percent after hitting 57.1 percent last season and Cam Tatum is at 75 percent, up from 66.7 percent.
Trae Golden’s 79.4 percent is down from last season’s 82.5 percent.
Mike Griffith covers Tennessee men’s basketball. Follow him at http://twitter.com/MikeGriffith32