Tennessee center Kenny Hall is ready to put his foot down.
A month ago, the 6-foot-9 junior struggled just to get his feet right in the paint, missing shots, running into early foul trouble and getting out-worked on the boards.
Hall has shown vast improvement of late, and he's ready to lead the Vols (3-5) on the road against College of Charleston (7-1) on Wednesday (TV: ESPN2, 9 p.m.).
"It's most definitely a must-win; losing three straight, two at home, it's important for us to go on the road and get this victory,'' Hall said Monday. "We do remember (Charleston) coming in and dominating us (91-78, in Knoxville last season), and that's another push for us as a team to go into their home and beat them.''
Cuonzo Martin was coaching at Missouri State last season and couldn't address UT's potential revenge factor, but as far as Hall goes, Martin has been front and center.
"Kenny stayed after it, and he kept working, every morning,'' Martin said. "More than anything, you have to believe in some
thing before you want to do it full throttle. He's gotten more comfortable.''
Hall's effective post presence — along with that of junior power forward Jeronne Maymon — has in turn made the coaching staff more comfortable as the Vols continue to evolve.
"Jeronne is playing well, leading the SEC in field-goal percentage (59.0), and he did a good job in workouts making layups in traffic with bodies around,'' Martin said. "Kenny had another double-figure rebounding night (in last Saturday's loss to Austin Peay), and he's gaining more confidence on the offensive side of the ball.
"The most impressive thing about him he did a good job of chasing rebounds, with seven offensive rebounds, which was impressive for him.''
Hall's 12-point, 10-rebound double-double against Austin Peay were the type of numbers both Martin and Hall envisioned before the season.
But Hall struggled out of the gate.
"Y'all seen the games and the shots I was missing, I wanted to improve that,'' Hall said. "I don't like missing shots. For a big man, that's not a good look, especially on a team where a post presence is needed. For me not being that presence, that's not a good feeling. It's my job to get better and help my team out.''
Hall's presence in the paint could prove pivotal tonight, as the Cougars feature a 6-9 freshman post. The 6-7, 263-pound Maymon, meanwhile, will be matched with another wide body, 6-8, 240-pound sophomore forward Trent Wiedeman.
Martin said he'd like to see both Hall and Maymon get more assertive calling for the ball in the low post.
Hall was 5-of-5 shooting and Maymon was 8-of-10 from the floor against Austin Peay, but neither saw the ball much in the second half.
"The one thing we've talked to Kenny and Jeronne about, you have to demand the ball on the blocks,'' Martin said. "Not to say the guards are selfish, but if you're gonna demand the ball on offense, you have to give it up on the other side, and you have to be defending at a high level.
"Kenny and Jeronne, they don't demand the ball, they just go about their business, they work hard, they don't make a lot of excuses,'' he said. "So it's two things, a guard recognizing they're open, but also those guys demanding the ball.''
Hall said now that he has his game going, it puts him in a better position to be a leader.
"That's a part I have to step up and be more vocal on the court,'' Hall said. "It's not always the easiest thing to do, coming at certain players certain ways, because you have to look at yourself in the mirror first and correct what you're doing wrong. It starts off leading by example.
"Before you can check somebody else, you have to have your own stuff straight.''
Mike Griffith covers Tennessee men's basketball. Follow him at http://twitter.com/MikeGriffith32