Mike Strange: Road Vols aren't the problem

Mike Strange

Tobias Harris on the South Carolina win

COLUMBIA, S.C. - It can no longer be denied. I don't know why it took us this long to figure out the obvious.

There are two Tennessee basketball teams this season, not just the conventional one.

The Road Vols started strong Thursday night and had enough poise in the end to hold on to a 73-69 win over hard-charging South Carolina at the Colonial Life Center.

The Home Vols will be the guys who show up at Thompson-Boling Arena on Sunday to deal with Kentucky.

The Road Vols should petition the NCAA for their own invitation to the Big Dance. They don't want the Home Vols' shortcomings to weigh against them.

Taken as a whole, Tennessee might open the NCAA tournament in the 8-9 game two weeks from now, with a big, bad No. 1 seed lurking in the second round.

But that's not fair to the Road Vols. After all, March Madness won't be passing through Knoxville, so why figure the Home Vols into the equation?

Based on their own merits, the Road Vols might be a 3 seed, 4 at worst.

The Home Vols? They're NIT material.

It was the Road Vols who won in Pittsburgh, who carried the NIT Season Tipoff trophy out of Madison Square Garden.

The Road Vols finished 5-3 in SEC play. They were resourceful enough to steal one at Georgia and tough enough to dispel Memorial Magic and win at Vanderbilt.

They were a one-and-one away from winning at SEC champion Florida. They cruised by double digits at Auburn (without Scotty Hopson) and at Ole Miss.

And Thursday night, they were resilient enough to fend off an inspired South Carolina rally in the second half - with center Brian Williams home in Knoxville nursing a bad back.

The Home Vols can't seem to beat anybody anymore, not even Georgia or Mississippi State.

The Road Vols, however, opened brilliantly Thursday night. They blazed to a 20-point lead late in the first half, sinking shots inside and out.

"We sent a message,'' Pearl said. "We know we had business to tend to.''

Yeah, because of those slacker Home Vols letting down on the job.

In any case, the fast start should have come as no surprise. The guys in the orange uniforms generally do take care of business.

And this night, they had more business to take care of late. South Carolina gathered itself and carved away at a 40-23 halftime deficit to trail only 58-54 with 8 minutes to play.

It was the very scenario Pearl feared. Tennessee missed the 6-foot-10, 272-pound Williams against the SEC's best offensive rebounding team.

The Gamecocks snatched 20 offensive rebounds and won the battle of second-chance points 22-9.

John Fields, Jeronne Maymon and Kenny Hall played a combined 26 minutes and had one defensive rebound (by Fields) between them.

"If we could have rebounded the ball and taken away second-chance points,'' said Pearl, "it would have been a solid win.

"Tobias (Harris) was the only guy who had any kind of physical presence.''

Harris, the freshman, played his best game, scoring 25 efficient points: 7-of-9 from the field, 11-of-14 at the line.

Hopson stayed in All-SEC form with 24 points. The rest of the cast pitched in just enough here and there.

Come to think about it, even though South Carolina won the second half, it was still a solid win.

Williams' absence was a significant obstacle against a team that works the glass as fervently as the Gamecocks do. And when South Carolina finally made a game of it, the Road Vols refused to fold.

Melvin Goins stuck a clutch jumper with 32.7 seconds to play and the Road Vols followed it with two clutch defensive stops.

"We've shown some toughness on the road,'' Pearl said. "We've shown some character in difficult places.

"We felt like we had to get this win. We're still alive.''

The Road Vols aren't just alive. They're thriving.

It's the Home Vols he's got to worry about.

Mike Strange may be reached at strangem@knoxnews.com or 865-342-6276. Follow him at http://twitter.com/strangemike44 and http://blogs.knoxnews.com.

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Comments » 32

SpiritOfTheHill writes:

Simple solution for the Home Vols: Wear the orange uniforms on Sunday.

freevol writes:

we made foul shots no brian williams point blank misses.harris best freshman in the league.coach of the year eddie munster????

FeelVol writes:

in response to SpiritOfTheHill:

Simple solution for the Home Vols: Wear the orange uniforms on Sunday.

And the orange sneakers,I like seeing whose moving their feet on defense.

bigdisbig writes:

Good article. Home Vols need help from the crowd but it seems that the Thompson arena seems to feed the away teams more than most. We need seats closer to the floor like Ky. or Duke. Those guys hardly ever lose at home due to the "sixth man". The crowd can definitely make a difference at home.....just an observation. I know the Vols have played terrible a times at home but having a crowd behind them screaming at the other team can and will make a difference.

MusicCityVol writes:

The good news is both the SEC Tournament and the NCAA Tournament will feature the "Road Vols". Good article. The UK game is HUGE with the Vols still holding a small chacnce for a 2-seed in Atlanta.

Vols and Cats Play For More Than Pride
http://checkerboardchatter.blogspot.c...

the58vol writes:

in response to FeelVol:

And the orange sneakers,I like seeing whose moving their feet on defense.

Where can we buy those new orange sneakers?

GreeneVol writes:

Ditto SpiritOfTheHill - I thought the same thing when I saw them in orange sneakers last night. It would be fitting to wear all orange at home Sunday...after all, Bruce wears orange blazer against Kentucky. It would send a message to the fans as well & possibly be that extra spark they need. Switch it up.

And hopefully we'll have a healthy Williams on the floor for his Senior Day...man, only one rebound between the three of those guys? That's awful. No wonder we went for such a long stretch in the 2nd half with Harris being the biggest guy on the floor for us - those bigs weren't doing a thing for us!

And SURELY we can have a better crowd presence than we had against Mississippi State last weekend. That was pretty lame. It was like we didn't even have a home crowd until about seven minutes left. Williams, Hopson & the Pearls shouldn't have to stoke the fans, but they may have to...it should be the other way around. C'mon all you critical Vol fans, act like YOU want a win Sunday for a change. Early Sunday games have a way of keeping a crowd in check too...we'll need the support that the Kentucky fans ALWAYS give to their Wildcats.

NO_DIGGITY writes:

in response to ztoshiningz2:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

I know what you mean Gomer, same team beat Lil Wolfgang and the Gators 72-69. How are things in Green Bay this morning? Has Chuck Weis given Galen Muschamp his coaching responsibilities for the Spring Game?

carbonzip writes:

in response to cliffjumper50#205931:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Makes sense.

easleychuck writes:

in response to ztoshiningz2:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Being uninformed is one thing, clueless is a whole other zip code.

Road wins are money in any league.

bosscat writes:

We have no home field advantage because of us, not the team. If we are supposed to win and yet we fall behind during the game--it's like a funeral home. Watching the games on the tube (I'm a 10-hr drive from K-Town), it's not unusual for the announcers to make comments such as "the crowd's been taken out of it" or "their not making much noise tonight". You would think the average age of the crowd was about 75. Watch a Duke game for comparison. They are jumping up and down and yelling regardless of the score. You would think the average age of a Duke crowd was about 19. And don't talk about Duke being a better team year after year. Having a home advantage is all about the crowd--it's not about the team. And not having a home advantage is all about the crowd, not the team. What is the seating situation relative to students now? We need to become a pain in the arse to visiting teams as opposed to simply sitting on our collective arses. You know, when the team is not doing well is when we are supposed to be cheering the loudest.

the58vol writes:

in response to ztoshiningz2:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Troll.....

GreeneVol writes:

Bosscat, I agree. Sadly this has been the trend for years. One problem is that the big donor stiffs sit courtside: cross-legged, looking all proper & obviously uncomfortable in making any noise. A very elementary concept: no matter what spirit the front line at a game carries, it is contagious to the folks behind them. We have in general a reactive crowd, rather than one that will inspire the team. Now, I envision a crowd Sunday that will be atypical because of a) the opponent, and b) final home game of year, 'Senior Day'. It's those games like Miss. St. last Saturday where our team needs a more proactive crowd. As is the case with so many things in life related to money & status quo, I just don't see much changing. It really is unfortunate.

volinuptonky writes:

Maybe our crowd needs to cheer for KY on Sun. I know that is blasphemy but it just might fire up the team.

NO_DIGGITY writes:

in response to ztoshiningz2:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Actually it is this game Gomer.

http://rivals.yahoo.com/ncaa/basketba...

How does a team with that much talent lose to the Poultry at home?

I just brought up Football since you live in Green Bay. It is a Year Round Sport up there.

Looks like Weis has lost some weight.

http://chud.com/articles/content_imag...

johnlg00 writes:

in response to ztoshiningz2:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Another pointlessly mean post by the board's most pathetic troll.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to PearlMustGo:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Wrong, smart a__. The home team can wear any color jerseys they want as long as they notify the visitors ahead of time.

GreeneVol writes:

in response to PearlMustGo:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

I'm betting you're out of line on this one: I noticed West Virginia hosting UCONN in yellow jerseys the other night. Don't they normally wear white at home like other teams do?

GreeneVol writes:

in response to KCHS_alum:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Doing as you say 'their damdest' the whole game or just at the end? I take it you were there. I wasn't. I just had my eyes seeing motionless fans around the court and my ears not hearing much noise for most of the game. Jimmy Dykes commented as much at half-time as well. Do you honestly think that our crowd has near the effect on our team as Duke, Florida, Kentucky, Kansas, North Carolina's fans do for their teams? And having 20K in the stands sitting on their hands vs. making noise is a big difference. Yes, 20K is great fan support, but what we are talking about is the noise that the average fan makes. Cameron Indoor's 9K I would say makes easily twice the noise that our 20K can make on a good night. It's just a mentality difference that I've witnessed in-person for years.

TraitorLane writes:

in response to GreeneVol:

Doing as you say 'their damdest' the whole game or just at the end? I take it you were there. I wasn't. I just had my eyes seeing motionless fans around the court and my ears not hearing much noise for most of the game. Jimmy Dykes commented as much at half-time as well. Do you honestly think that our crowd has near the effect on our team as Duke, Florida, Kentucky, Kansas, North Carolina's fans do for their teams? And having 20K in the stands sitting on their hands vs. making noise is a big difference. Yes, 20K is great fan support, but what we are talking about is the noise that the average fan makes. Cameron Indoor's 9K I would say makes easily twice the noise that our 20K can make on a good night. It's just a mentality difference that I've witnessed in-person for years.

I have to agree on the dead atmosphere at TBA. I live in upstate NY and watch all the games on TV and you can see a huge differerence between UT crowds and those at other arenas. The fans just don't get loud against teams we are supposed to beat. Sometimes the fans have to get crazy and motivate the team instead of wait for results. It could be that the Road Vols are well suited for tourney ball. We'll see.

DaveVol writes:

I was just looking at the box score from the first KY game. Tobias played 31 minutes and Hopson played 24 minutes. Why are there minutes so low? They should each play 35 at a minimum.

GreeneVol writes:

in response to KCHS_alum:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Hey I totally get what you're saying and even agree with you to a certain point.

But what I'm saying is that a top-notch rowdy crowd could have been the difference between a win and loss in several home games this year. We just don't normally bring that extra bone-jarring noise that gets the opposing team's offense rattled and out of sync. What do you think?

KCVol writes:

in response to bosscat:

We have no home field advantage because of us, not the team. If we are supposed to win and yet we fall behind during the game--it's like a funeral home. Watching the games on the tube (I'm a 10-hr drive from K-Town), it's not unusual for the announcers to make comments such as "the crowd's been taken out of it" or "their not making much noise tonight". You would think the average age of the crowd was about 75. Watch a Duke game for comparison. They are jumping up and down and yelling regardless of the score. You would think the average age of a Duke crowd was about 19. And don't talk about Duke being a better team year after year. Having a home advantage is all about the crowd--it's not about the team. And not having a home advantage is all about the crowd, not the team. What is the seating situation relative to students now? We need to become a pain in the arse to visiting teams as opposed to simply sitting on our collective arses. You know, when the team is not doing well is when we are supposed to be cheering the loudest.

Bosscat, you are 100% right. Likewise, being 1000 miles away I have to also view on TV and watching the crowd, it's pathetic. You'd think they were at a tennis match. How is it that team's like Duke, Kansas State, Pittsburg and others rock their own house and create such intimidating bedlam for the other team? They do it because they give their students THE PREMIUM SEATS closest to the floor. And not just in the "end zone", but 360 degrees around the court. Quit patronizing the program donors and free these seats up for the students and you'll add 5 to 10 points to the Vols home court advantage. We have a GREAT team, and I'm sorry they don't get the support from the non-student fans attending the home games.

dwthevolsfan writes:

in response to KCHS_alum:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

I think that one of the reasons this team plays better on the road is because it seems like the only way they get motivated is when noone thinks they will win. If it's expected to be an easy win they come out in cruise control and don't play defense or rebound. This team has to give full effort in those two areas or anybody can beat them.

CrankE writes:

New cheer:
GO (AWAY) VOLS!

VolunteerLifer writes:

You could see everything that's right and everything that's wrong with this year's squad in this game. The excellent first half of basketball showing their talent and potential for high quality play - but in the second half their tendency for complacency and premature satisfaction with their accomplishments and resulting failure to apply the coup de grace, i.e. no killer instinct.

And in the last couple of minutes you could really see the schizophrenia: with a sizable lead, instead of stepping on USC's necks, they started playing really dumb basketball - three point shots early in the shot clock, dumb fouls that took opponents to free throw line to cut the lead without the clock moveing, etc. But then when pressed to the wall some mental toughness won the day in the end.

Truly a jekyll and hyde team. They say a team takes on the personality of its coach. I guess there are exceptions to that, but I wonder if that's the case here.

PeeEllthree writes:

in response to PearlMustGo:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

A few posts ago you said it was against the rules. Which is it, you freaking dumbasz?

mlynn1 writes:

in response to ztoshiningz2:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Then how do you sum up your beloved gators getting beat by them in Gainsville???

brod writes:

in response to PearlMustGo:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

hey dumb a**. they wore orange against uk last year. ironsheik is right, you are dumb a** of the year. go back to your moma's basement.

GreeneVol writes:

The front row stiffs belong at the symphony, not the basketball arena. Somebody get the wave going.

PeeEllthree writes:

in response to PearlMustGo:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Fools tend to make fools of themselves, often. Others sit back and watch. It's entertaining to sit back and watch you. Those TV antennae, Cops and tooth jokes are incredibly humorous. What are you, a 15 yr old caught in 1982? LMMFAO!!

dqnapier#225584 writes:

in response to KCVol:

Bosscat, you are 100% right. Likewise, being 1000 miles away I have to also view on TV and watching the crowd, it's pathetic. You'd think they were at a tennis match. How is it that team's like Duke, Kansas State, Pittsburg and others rock their own house and create such intimidating bedlam for the other team? They do it because they give their students THE PREMIUM SEATS closest to the floor. And not just in the "end zone", but 360 degrees around the court. Quit patronizing the program donors and free these seats up for the students and you'll add 5 to 10 points to the Vols home court advantage. We have a GREAT team, and I'm sorry they don't get the support from the non-student fans attending the home games.

I agree that Thompson Boling is like a morgue for about 70% of most games. Folks, this is basketball, not a golf tournament. GET LOUD AND SUPPORT YOUR TEAM!!

If I were Bruce Pearl I would pay some creative student a decent salary to think of different cheers and ways to get the crowd involved (like Duke's fans). This would make the games a lot more fun and significantly improve our homefield advantage, as well as recruiting. Players like crazy fans supporting them.

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