UT's Bruce Pearl on loss to Miss. State
You could hear a collective moan from the Thompson-Boling Arena crowd when Tennessee misfired on a 3-pointer Saturday evening. Some even booed.
How's that for an educated response?
The fans know their team. And they know the stats.
So does Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury. He was neither moaning nor booing when UT jacked up one misguided 3 after another in Mississippi State's 70-69 victory.
In fact, he probably had to restrain himself from shouting, "Shoot it!" when a UT player even glanced at the goal from behind the 3-point arc. The Vols couldn't have looked any worse if Stansbury had scripted their offense.
UT coach Bruce Pearl should have dispensed with a halftime speech. He should have just shown his team the SEC stats.
The Vols rank next to last in the SEC in 3-point field-goal percentage. Yet the way they were triggering 3-pointers, you would have thought they had dedicated the game to Pearl's first UT team.
Remember those guys? They played up-tempo, full-court basketball and shot 3s with a vengeance. Oh, by the way, they also made a lot of those 3s.
UT hit four of 12 3-point attempts in the first half against Mississippi State. That was its good half.
In the second half, the Vols' short-term memory was as bad as their shooting touch. How else can you account for their stubborn pursuit of 3-pointers?
They made only one of nine in the second half and finished the game 5-for-21. Mississippi State's Wendell Lewis gets credit for the game-winning basket with 3.4 seconds to play, but any Vol who missed a 3 gets an assist.
"If you saw us, we backed off (when UT considered a 3-point shot)," Stansbury said.
"You pick your poison. One poison is Scotty Hopson in the lane. We were gonna try our best to keep him out of the lane."
Although Hopson had a game-high 22 points, the strategy was a success. He twice missed layups and also shot three air-balls.
"We wanted Hopson shooting the 3s," Stansbury said. "We wanted (Melvin) Goins shooting the 3s."
Ditto for Tobias Harris.
"He made some early," Stansbury said. "In the second half, I don't think he made any of them."
Harris, Hopson and Goins were a combined 0-for-4 on second-half 3-point tries. Their failure was magnified by Mississippi State's attrition.
The Bulldogs played the entire second half without post player Renardo Sidney, who was ill. Yet the Vols couldn't capitalize on his absence.
"The team did not play well again offensively," Pearl said. "If I don't call a play and put them in the spots they're supposed to be in, we have a hard time scoring and making decisions on our own.
"We're not playing well offensively and we haven't all year."
You can't attribute the lack of offense solely to the players. For all the success Pearl has had at UT, his offense has continued to decline.
His first team scored 70 or more points in every SEC regular-season game except two. And in each of those sub-70 games, it was only one point shy.
This season, the Vols have scored more than 69 points only four times in SEC play.
Pearl's sixth UT team bears no resemblance to his first. The tempo has slowed, the defense has been confined mainly to half-court and the 3-point shots have fallen farther off target.
But no matter how far off they fell against Mississippi State, the Vols didn't quit shooting.
That's not a compliment.
John Adams is a senior columnist. He may be reached at 865-342-6284 or firstname.lastname@example.org