Mike Strange: An aggressive Trae Golden ... that's worth talking about

COLUMBIA, S.C. —When you lose, there's not much to say. Heads hang. Blank eyes stare straight ahead.

Sunday afternoon, Tennessee's men were a bunch of chatterboxes. They practically had to be run out of Colonial Life Arena or they would have been hanging around yakking it up with friends and family until dark.

But the smiles and banter weren't to end there, at the site of the Vols' 66-61 win over South Carolina.

"The first thing we said when we walked in (the locker room),'' said guard Trae Golden, "is we could actually talk on the plane ride home.''

Now there's a switch. Tennessee finally broke through for a road win.

There have been some somber plane and bus rides this winter. Digesting the reality of scoring only 36 (or 38) points. Mentally rehashing the shot that wouldn't fall here, the spurt of ill-timed turnovers there.

"To go on the plane ride home with peace of mind,'' is what coach Cuonzo Martin was looking forward to when his day's work was done.

Peace of mind has been a rare commodity in a season characterized by questions and disappointments.

The low point might have come Wednesday night in a listless home-court loss to Georgia.

Beating lowly South Carolina for the 12th consecutive time isn't reason to throw a parade. Don't look for the Vols to pop up Monday morning in anybody's bracketology.

There were, however, several positive developments to ponder.

Not the least of them was the return of the aforementioned Golden.

It wasn't just that Golden, the junior point guard, was back on the court after a two-game absence to mend a strained hamstring. It was more than that.

"That's the Trae we're used to seeing,'' said teammate Jordan McRae. "That's big for us, seeing him aggressive, playing hard.''

It was the Trae the Vols hadn't seen in a while.

Golden entered the fray five minutes in. He played 27 minutes of the remaining 35 and scored 16 points, his most productive outing since Dec. 18 against Western Carolina.

"One thing about Trae,'' said Martin, "is he's a scoring guard. We don't need him to go out and focus on trying to get 10 assists every night unless they come to him.''

Golden had but one assist Sunday. The best indicator in his stat line was hitting 8-of-10 at the free-throw line, his most attempts in his eight SEC games played.

That spoke to his aggressiveness. Not that the Vols don't need assists to fuel their often-stagnant offense, but seeing Golden bent on attacking the rim was encouraging.

He converted tough three-point plays on consecutive possessions in the second half and shortly after, nestled in a floater to put UT ahead 46-45.

"I'm not Phil Pressey or any of those guys,'' Golden said. "I'm myself.

"It's no secret I haven't been playing as well as I can. So to get going, being aggressive, making a few shots, it was great for me.''

Missouri's Pressey is a conventional point guard, a set-up man who can score when needed. Tennessee doesn't have one of those.

Golden, a scorer by trade, is UT's best option at the point. And when he's injured — or sitting because he's not playing up to Martin's expectations — the Vols really struggle to find any fluidity in their halfcourt offense.

Sunday was another heavy turnover day, 18 to be exact. Normally, that's not a winning number. But South Carolina has limitations of its own and was more forgiving than Arkansas or Ole Miss.

So, credit to the Vols. The game was hanging in the balance and they won the final three minutes with some nice ball movement, clutch 3-point shooting and dependable work at the free-throw stripe.

And to a man, they were relieved to see Golden's steady handiwork throughout.

"Trae looked really good today,'' said Skylar McBee. "It just gives you another offensive threat.

"He really gave us a boost.''

"That,'' said Martin, "is the old Trae Golden, when he's being aggressive and getting to that rim.

"I don't think we get out of here alive without Trae Golden.''

The Vols did get out of here alive. And they were happy to talk about it all the way home.

Mike Strange may be reached at strangem@knoxnews.com. Follow him at http://twitter.com/strangemike44 and http://blogs.knoxnews.com/strange.

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Comments » 13

VolInIndy writes:

It's a start!

FeelVol writes:

Good article Mike and how true it is.Go Vols!!!

Sir_Spanky writes:

Nice win. Needed for sure. But why can't the turnovers be reduced? Much of it looks like good, old fashioned, lack of focus to me.

DC82_Vol writes:

How about we recruit our own PG? Are they that hard to find? When/Who is the last true PG TN has had?

Vol_In_Ohio writes:

in response to DC82_Vol:

How about we recruit our own PG? Are they that hard to find? When/Who is the last true PG TN has had?

C.J. Watson?

johnlg00 writes:

in response to DC82_Vol:

How about we recruit our own PG? Are they that hard to find? When/Who is the last true PG TN has had?

Yes, actually, great PGs ARE hard to find these days. Basketball instruction at the lower levels is just not as exacting as it used to be. Fewer HS and lower level teams run structured offenses than they used to. Everybody runs "motion" offenses because it is easier to plug players into such a "system". It doesn't require as much repetition and drill to build the timing and cohesion that structured offenses have to have. For a whole host of reasons I don't have the time or space to go into right now, there just is no widespread ability to create and nurture pure play-making PGs at the levels where playing fundamentals are established. It's the same for true back-to-the-basket post players. And as I keep saying, it's not just UT that has this problem. All the measures of efficient offensive basketball are down from historical norms at every level of competition. This is the "new normal"; either get used to it or start following another sport.

Basketvol writes:

in response to johnlg00:

Yes, actually, great PGs ARE hard to find these days. Basketball instruction at the lower levels is just not as exacting as it used to be. Fewer HS and lower level teams run structured offenses than they used to. Everybody runs "motion" offenses because it is easier to plug players into such a "system". It doesn't require as much repetition and drill to build the timing and cohesion that structured offenses have to have. For a whole host of reasons I don't have the time or space to go into right now, there just is no widespread ability to create and nurture pure play-making PGs at the levels where playing fundamentals are established. It's the same for true back-to-the-basket post players. And as I keep saying, it's not just UT that has this problem. All the measures of efficient offensive basketball are down from historical norms at every level of competition. This is the "new normal"; either get used to it or start following another sport.

Good answer to a good question. Add into the equation the NCAA/BBQ factor and it's no wonder we haven't been able to get a true point guard at UT the last two years.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to Basketvol:

Good answer to a good question. Add into the equation the NCAA/BBQ factor and it's no wonder we haven't been able to get a true point guard at UT the last two years.

Well, again, my larger point is that this is a problem for basketball in general. For every Phil Pressey or Aaron Craft, there are a dozen converted shooting guards nominally playing a PG role. The classic PGs stick out like the "only little petunias in an onion patch". It is a sort of chicken-and-egg proposition. Few teams at the lower levels run the structured offenses that really need a classic PG. BECAUSE there are few true PGs around, MOST upper-level teams have to run offenses that don't require one. Of course, there are still some classic PGs around, but since they are usually smaller and not as strong as the kind of physical type that coaches these days fall in love with and because AAU teams--where most of the elite players draw the most attention these days--emphasize run-and-gun or pick-and-roll offenses, PGs don't get as much chance to shine.

johnlg00 writes:

As for Trae, while I will continue to wish that he would develop his floor game and not rely so much on head-long forays into traffic, I would rather see him attacking the way he was yesterday rather than fooling around 40' from the basket. The post players need to be alert to his opportunities to penetrate and get out the way to allow him to drive. Then they can be ready for passes to the short corner for jumpers or roll toward the basket following him in to be ready for short dump-offs or offensive rebounds. The Vols can win with Golden playing the way he was yesterday, but everybody should probably just stop hoping he will ever develop into the next coming of Bob Cousy or Magic Johnson or Steve Nash.

hikerdude writes:

18 turnovers. Sad, sad. BBB

brod writes:

need stokes and golden to both play well if they are going to finish above .500.

sly_stone99#434111 writes:

in response to DC82_Vol:

How about we recruit our own PG? Are they that hard to find? When/Who is the last true PG TN has had?

Bobby Maze

johnlg00 writes:

The best thing about the play of both Golden and Stokes was that both seemed to be playing with confidence. Stokes has been doing that for most of the SEC season, but Golden seemed to lose his for a while there. Now if they can keep that up and McRae can rediscover HIS confidence, the Vols could be an upleasant surprise for most opponents the rest of the way.

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