Unlikely hero

Most basketball players get pulled from the lineup for taking bad shots. One Tennessee player gets pulled for taking no shots. After all, what's the point in playing a shooter who won't shoot?

Because his 3-point stroke wasn't working, Skylar McBee fired up just 12 attempts in Games 7 through 16, making three. Upon assuming the bench-coaching duties from suspended head man Bruce Pearl, Tony Jones promptly cut McBee's minutes from 14 vs. Memphis to 6 vs. Arkansas to 2 vs. Florida.

When Tennessee missed its first 10 tries from 3-point range in Saturday's game with Vanderbilt, however, Jones felt compelled to insert McBee five minutes into the second half in hopes he could provide a perimeter threat.

McBee, who already missed two first-half 3-pointers, promptly misfired on his first try of the second half. He got the ball on Tennessee's next possession, however, and quickly fired again - this time hitting a 3-pointer that whittled the deficit from 43-32 to 43-35. After Vandy answered with a trey, McBee got another long-range look and launched again. This shot also fell, and he was fouled on the attempt. He converted the free throw to complete a four-point play that trimmed the deficit to 46-39 with 12:01 remaining.

Those back-to-back 3s fired up the crowd and loosened up Vandy's defense, helping the Vols rally for a 67-64 victory that snapped a two-game losing streak and provided a glimmer of hope for the rest of the season.

"Skylar McBee came up huge for us," Jones said. "We needed him. We've been needing him. We know what type of dimension he can be for us, and that's the reason he's continuing to play. We haven't given up on him, and on this particular day he came up big with 10 points and three steals."

McBee, a 6-3 sophomore who came to UT as a walk-on from Rutledge, is an unassuming guy whose low-key nature makes him somewhat unassertive. Jones has been trying to change that, as McBee recalled:

"Tony told me in practice the other day: 'When you're out there and you're open, you've got to shoot the ball. If not, you're coming out.' When he says something like that, you've got to listen to what the coach says and put it up there."

McBee listened, finishing Saturday's game with six attempts from behind the arc, doubling his previous season-high. He also finished with a season-high 10 points, yet he downplayed his role in the come-from-behind victory.

"Nobody shot it good the first half," McBee noted. "We played good defense but the shots weren't falling. We came out with confidence in the second half, though, and everybody was knocking down shots and making contributions. That's what led us to the win."

McBee became an instant celebrity as a freshman last January when he drained a game-clinching 3 in the final seconds as Tennessee shocked top-ranked Kansas. He lost his spot in the playing rotation by March, however, and continued to struggle at the start of this season, making just 8 of his first 28 tries from beyond the arc. Keeping an upbeat outlook wasn't easy, but he generally managed to do so.

"You have to keep a positive mindset all the time," McBee said. "The biggest thing was encouragement from teammates, encouragement from family, encouragement from friends. The people around you see how much work you put in, and they're always in my ear - telling me to stay positive, keep working and keep shooting."

Fortunately for Tennessee, McBee kept shooting on Saturday. Otherwise, the Vols probably don't rally to beat the Commodores.


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