Roommates Jordan McRae and Josh Richardson had a little chat before heading to Thompson-Boling Arena on Saturday.
The motif, simply, was stop thinking, start playing.
So with a Saturday date against Mississippi State offering a chance to snap the streak and rustle up some good vibes, the Vols loosened up. In a pregame huddle, McRae and Richardson shared their resolution.
Jarnell Stokes heard it. Trae Golden heard it.
The resolution produced results. McRae (12 points), Richardson (16), Stokes (18) and Golden (10) all posted double-digit performances as the Vols notched a glad-to-have-ya 72-57 win.
"It was needed — a must-win — definitely," Richardson said.
With the win, Tennessee (9-7, 1-3 SEC) avoided its first five-game losing streak since 2000-01, Jerry Green's final year as UT coach, and its first 0-4 start in SEC play since 1993-94, Wade Houston's final year as coach.
"Once you're able to get a win, now you can breathe a little bit and move forward," said Martin of snapping a four-game skid.
While the unfettered upperclassmen produced the results, a pair of freshmen provided the spark.
Armani Moore took care of the first half. Derek Reese brought it in the second.
'Sometimes, for freshmen, it's just what they need to have a game where they let it all happen and they get that opportunity,"
Both did the most with their opportunities.
In the first half, Moore ripped down eight of his 11 rebounds, including four offensive, and provided an ESPN-worthy blocked shot that landed somewhere amongst the deep-pocket donors in Thompson-Boling's front row. Moore's efforts, which also saw a career-high four assists, aided a 37-29 halftime lead for Tennessee.
Then it was Reese's turn. After playing just three first-half minutes, the 6-foot-8 wing canned three 3-pointers during a 16-4 UT run spanning 3 minutes, 25 seconds. The long-distance barrage vaulted a 39-35 lead to a 55-39 advantage with 11:38 left.
"Those guys were big for us," Richardson said.
Mississippi State (7-9, 2-2) couldn't recover as leading scorer Jalen Steele, a Knoxville native and Fulton graduate, missed much of the second half with tightness in his hamstrings. Nonetheless, Steele finished with a team-high 15 points.
"I thought he played well and I just wanted to acknowledge the fact that he did a great job coming home and shooting the ball like he did," Martin said.
Thanks to a return to form by Golden and Stokes, the Vols dished a season-high 19 assists, outscored the Bulldogs 42-16 in the paint and shot 46.7 percent (28-60) from the field.
Golden finished with a season-high nine assists, while Stokes pulled down 11 rebounds to earn his fourth double-double of the year.
"Jarnell and Trae Golden played well, which was good to see," Martin said. "If those two guys play well, we've got a chance. You need those guys playing at the level they're capable of playing. Everything falls into place when that happens."
A five-game losing streak averted, the Vols now await a rematch with Ole Miss on Thursday. Less than two weeks ago, the Rebels smacked UT, 92-74, at Thompson-Boling in the SEC opener for both teams.
No UT player said all the Vols' problems were solved Saturday. Instead, they said the road is finally clear for momentum.
"Today was a great opportunity, but Thursday is even more of an opportunity to turn things around," Stokes said.
Brendan F. Quinn covers Tennessee men's basketball. Follow him at Twitter.com/BFQuinn