Coach Martin talks about junior guard, Kenny Hall
Cuonzo Martin made it a point to get defensive at his Monday afternoon press luncheon.
The Tennessee men’s basketball coach is hoping his team will be ready to do the same when the Vols (3-5) take the court at the College of Charleston (7-1) on Wednesday (TV: ESPN2, 9 p.m.).
Martin hinted changes to the starting lineup and/or playing rotation are being considered on the heels of UT’s third consecutive loss, a 74-70 setback to Austin Peay (2-9) on Saturday at Thompson-Boling Arena.
“We’re definitely looking into it as we speak,’’ Martin said. “You look at every scenario. For us, we have to have a defensive mind-set, and I don’t know if we have that right now.’’
Martin has not changed the starting lineup since the start of the season, but UT’s loss to the Governors of the Ohio Valley Conference was troubling. The Vols squandered a 12-point lead in the second half and allowed Austin Peay to shoot 72 percent in the second half.
The Cougars, coached by Bobby Cermins, defeated UT last season in Thompson-Boling Arena, 91-78.
“I think our guys are working at better defense,’’ Martin said. “More than anything, it’s personal pride when you’re playing defense, and not just thinking you can outscore them.
“In order for our team to be successful, we have to defend; you weigh all your options.’’
Martin indicated a change in playing rotations isn’t meant to be a threat so much as a possible solution to make the team better.
It’s not Martin’s philosophy to use the bench as punishment.
“I don’t necessarily coach with an iron fist, because after a while that wears down,’’ he said. “You have to have guys understand what you’re doing, the level you are trying to do it, and make them comprehend it. It’s one thing to get a guy to embrace what you’re doing as long term, as opposed to a guy doing it because you have your foot on his throat.
“When guys understand what’s at stake, and how to study film, then you have long-term success, because then it’s passed down, as far as how to do things.’’
Martin said he felt good about the play of his big men, post Kenny Hall and Jeronne Maymon, and said that senior wing Cameron Tatum has bought into his defensive philosophy.
That leaves point guard Trae Golden and shooting guard Jordan McRae as the starters seemingly on the spot.
“We have guys that are built to be offensive players, whether they are good, great or average, but now they have to understand for us to have long-term success everybody has to defend and you have to do your part,’’ Martin said. “We have proven we can score points, but you have to be able to defend for us to be successful as a team.’’
The Vols rank 31st in the nation in scoring (79.3 points per game) and 59th in field goal percentage (47.0), but they are 284th (out of 345 teams) in scoring defense (73.1) and are ranked 260th in field goal percentage defense (45.0).
Freshman Wes Washpun is the backup point guard but has struggled running offensive sets.
Walk-on Brandon Lopez from Austin-East High School, however, has impressed Martin with his defensive skills at the point, and freshman Josh Richardson has exhibited skills at the point and shooting guard positions.
Martin said Tatum and Richardson have proven to be the best perimeter defenders.
Mike Griffith covers Tennessee men’s basketball. Follow him at http://twitter.com/MikeGriffith32