The message on Cuonzo Martin's game notes for East Tennessee State was easy to read from a distance.
"DON'T GO HOME UNTIL THE JOB IS DONE,'' was written in bold print, in all capital letters.
The Vols (4-6) play host to the Buccaneers (5-5) at 7 tonight at Thompson-Boling Arena. The game will not be televised, but a free live video stream will be available at www.UTsports.com.
Martin's more concerned about the hybrid 2-3 zone defense East Tennessee State uses than his players looking past the game and toward their brief holiday break.
"In our case, we're trying to get better and having fun getting better, so I don't think that will be an issue,'' said Martin, whose team will return to practice on Monday.
It has been a quick prep for East Tennessee, as the Vols are coming off a 72-68 win over UNC Asheville on Tuesday night that snapped a four-game losing streak.
The good news for UT fans is that this isn't the first time Tennessee has seen this particular zone look.
The bad news is the first time the Vols saw it, in a Nov. 3 exhibition game against Division II Carson-Newman, the team struggled early.
UT won the game, 73-52, but it didn't hold its first lead until the 8:06 mark of the first half and appeared sluggish and confused running its motion offense against the hybrid 2-3 look.
Center Jeronne Maymon, who was limited to two field goals against Carson-Newman, explained the zone as "funky ... almost like a 1-2-2 or 1-3-1 (zone) at times,'' and said, "it was hard to find who to screen.''
UT figures to be better prepared this time, though Maymon said the team would just prefer to score in transition.
"We've been working on our continuity against zone, getting our passes in and penetrating the zone, not settling for outside shots,'' said the 6-foot-7, 263-pound Maymon, who leads the SEC in field goal percentage (60.5) while ranking second in offensive rebounding (3.6 per game).
"We'd like to get up and down the floor and hopefully score before they set up in the zone.''
That could play into the hands of the Buccaneers, who will use a 1-2-1-1 press to speed the tempo with hopes of neutralizing UT's distinct size advantage.
Tennessee's ability to protect the ball will also be key, as the Vols turned the ball over 18 and 16 times, respectively, in their two most recent losses, to Austin Peay (Dec. 10) and the College of Charleston (Dec. 14).
Charleston also used a 2-3 zone look to bother the Vols in the second half in rallying from a 37-33 deficit for a 71-65 win as UT managed just 9-of-29 shooting from beyond the 3-point arc despite getting open looks.
Martin said he's confident in both the Vols' ball-handling and shooting, and he indicating it's a case of identifying the right personnel to keep on the floor.
"You get a feel for that by the energy the players bring to the floor,'' said Martin, who has maintained the same starting lineup since the start of the season but varied playing time and rotations. "An example is (backup point guard) Wes Washpun and the great job he did last game coming off the bench and playing with energy that sparked us.
"With your starters, it's a case of their mindset coming into the game, their body language, and how they attack early.''
Hence Thursday's message, "Don't go home until the job is done.''
Mike Griffith covers Tennessee men's basketball. Follow him at http://twitter.com/MikeGriffith32