Kenny Hall on UT win against South Carolina
The motivational ducks — or Gamecocks if you will — were lined up in a row for Kenny Hall on Wednesday night.
And in the latest in a series of bravo performances by one of Tennessee's complementary players, he bagged his limit.
Jarnell Stokes was nursing a sprained hand, leaving a void in Tennessee's interior for a date with South Carolina at Thompson-Boling Arena.
Hall, who had not started since SEC play began, coincidentally packaged a couple of impressive practices back to back.
"The last two or three days,'' said coach Cuonzo Martin, "we felt as a staff he had really been making strides.''
Then there was the Gamecock factor. The Vols were holders of a nine-game winning streak against lowly South Carolina.
"It most definitely matters to me,'' said Hall. "I really look into stuff like that.
"I'd never lost to those guys. I don't want to lose to them.''
So Hall went out and made sure he and Tennessee didn't.
He scored a modest four points in the Vols' 69-57 win and had nothing to do with UT's 10-of-20 barrage from the 3-point arc.
His solitary field goal barely climbed over the rim from point-blank range. He hit only twice in five tries at the free-throw stripe.
Hall made his stand on the boards and at the defensive end. Less flashy, but every bit as effective.
Returned to the starting lineup in Stokes' spot, he hustled up 10 rebounds, his first double-figures board work since Austin Peay on Dec. 10.
He had three blocks and a steal, which we'll get to shortly.
"The thing about Kenny,'' said Martin, "is he's up and down from the standpoint of talking and communicating.''
That goes for practice as well as games.
"Coach says I need to tighten my screws up some times,'' Hall said.
So the last few days, he did. He was vocal in practice. He even got praise from Martin for being (mostly) neat and "clean-shaven.''
Clean-shaven? Yes. To hear Hall tell it, Martin is a critical judge of appearance.
But what about Skylar McBee's much-discussed moustache.
"I think (Martin) had the same moustache when he was in college so he actually likes it,'' said Hall. "To each his own.''
Anyhow, the Vols looked up to find themselves leading 49-34 in the second half. When they looked up a few minutes later they found their lead was a mere 58-55 with 4:07 to play.
Hall tacked on a free throw to make it a four-point game, then he went to work at the other end.
Tennessee desperately needed a stop. They got one when Hall collapsed on poor freshman Anthony Gill in a double team and ripped the ball away from him.
Trae Golden converted a three-point play for a 62-55 lead. Then Hall rebounded a Gamecock miss and Jeronne Maymon added another three-point play.
With the count 67-57, another stop would come in handy.
Hall blocked a Malik Cooke shot and when the Gamecocks came up with the rebound he rejected Damontre Harris' shot.
Then he let out a roar.
"He did a great job,'' said McBee. "It seemed like he was everywhere.
"I look for performances like that all the time. We know he can do it. That's the thing.''
South Carolina knows he can do it. Harris finished 1-of-7, Gill 0-of-6. Together, they didn't match Hall's 10 rebounds.
"I was just focused,'' said Hall. "That was just my thing, defend and rebound. I think I did a good job with that.
"My biggest problem all season is consistency. I've got to have the same mindset and stay focused and do what we've go to do to get ready for Florida.''
As the final seconds played out Wednesday night, you could hear a voice or two offering an appraisal from the stands.
Good job Kenny.
Way to go Kenny.
For this night at least, he had his screws tightened up just fine.