The visiting Bulldogs (6-4) average a whopping 45.3 second-half points per game, making them just as adept at overcoming late leads as the Vols are at squandering them. Tennessee (3-6) has been outscored in the second half four games in a row, losing each time.
The Big Orange was outscored 50-49 in the second half of a Game 6 loss at Oakland, 34-29 in the second half of a Game 7 loss to Pittsburgh, 44-33 in the second half of a Game 8 loss to Austin Peay and 38-28 in the second half of a Game 9 loss at College of Charleston.
Basically, the Vols' recent post-intermission pattern consisted of three steps: Lose focus. Lose the ball. Lose the game.
"I think the Austin Peay game there was mental slippage in the second half," head coach Cuonzo Martin said. "In the Charleston game we did a good job in the first half but in both games we compounded mistakes with turnovers. There were a lot of unforced turnovers. Then, instead of getting back on defense, we kind of put our heads down somewhat and, all of a sudden, the other team is making (transition) baskets."
Despite the 3-6 record, Martin says Tennessee's morale remains good.
"That doesn't change; we're always positive," the coach said. "We're getting better. We compete every day. Just stick to the script."
Asked if the four-game losing streak has shaken his team's confidence, Martin replied: "It's not how many games in a row you've lost. We approach every game like it's the last game and we try to win that game."
The Vol staff's goal is 10 or fewer turnovers per game, a target the team hasn't come close to achieving lately. After committing a season-high 18 turnovers in Game 8 versus Austin Peay, the Vols were whistled for 16 more in Game 9 at College of Charleston.
Martin said part of his team's struggles can be traced to four new starters "learning to play with each other," then added: "It's more the turnovers than anything because (opposing) teams are really scoring off of those turnovers. We have to minimize our turnovers, then we'll be fine."
In addition to numerous physical lapses, Tennessee recent play has been characterized by too many mental lapses. The Vols' shot selection in the past two games was downright poor. They fired up 19 attempts from 3-point range (making 5) in the Game 8 loss to Austin Peay and launched a season-high 29 treys (making 9) in the Game 9 loss at Charleston. Long rebounds off of missed 3-point tries led to transition buckets that helped spark a 20-2 explosion by the Cougars, turning a four-point second-half deficit into a 14-point lead.
"The last game we settled for 3-point shots and didn't get the ball inside the second half," Martin conceded. "I didn't think we did a good job of getting the ball on the interior."
NOTES: UNC Asheville is sure to enjoy tonight's visit to Thompson-Boling Arena more than last time. The Bulldogs didn't make their initial field goal until 3:10 remained in the first half of a 124-49 Vol romp on Nov. 17, 2009. Tennessee posted program records for points and assists (34) that night, with its 75-point victory margin being the second largest in team history.... The 2011-12 Bulldogs were preseason picks to win the Big South Conference, getting 18 of 25 first-place votes and 257 of a possible 275 points.... Asheville has played tough against a couple of quality teams, losing 75-84 at North Carolina State and bowing 63-73 to UConn in the Battle4Atlantis at Nassau, Bahamas.... UNCA is expected to start four seniors and a junior tonight. The seniors are 6-5, 240-pound Quinard Jackson (5.3 points, 4.1 rebounds), 6-3, 200-pound Chris Stephenson (13.2 points, 6.2 rebounds), 6-1, 180-pound Matt Dickey (16.7 points, 3.8 assists) and 6-1, 195-pound J.P. Primm (13.0 points, 4.8 assists). The junior is 6-4, 210-pound Jeremy Atkinson (9.1 points, 6.2 rebounds).... Primm played on the same Rocky Top League team with UT's Renaldo Woolridge and Brandon Lopez last summer.... Tennessee is expected to go with the same lineup that started the first nine games, although point guard Trae Golden has a broken nose.... Tonight's game will be regionally televised by SportSouth.