A huge key to winning SEC road games is to keep the home team from feeding off the home fans and vice-versa. One way to do this is to keep the pace slow and the excitement level low. In other words ... turn the contest into a snoozefest.
"You have to be able to grind that thing out on the road," Martin said of tonight's game at Mississippi State. "Make it ugly for the home team because they want to make it exciting, get up and down the floor. The fans want to see a show. From that standpoint, you have to slow that thing down and make those guys work."
The best way to make the home team's players work is by forcing them to play defense for long stretches of time. This tires their legs and bores their fans, creating a dull atmosphere that reduces the home crowd's impact.
"It's a different ball game on the road, especially in the first 10 minutes of the game," Martin said. "You have to kind of set the tone with how you play. You have to move the ball. At home it's one or two passes, then a shot. On the road, it may be four or five passes.
"You really execute your offense to make those guys work because most home teams play off rhythm, off runs, and off quick shots they make transition baskets. We really have to make those guys bog down and defend for a long time."
Although he wants the Vols to play differently on the road, Martin says he does not coach any differently on the road.
"Not at all," he said. "It's really just a matter of our guys understanding that in road games the score can be 51-50 if it's a win. It doesn't have to be 90-88 and exciting."
Tennessee learned that lesson in its first road game of 2011-12. The Vols tried to play a fast pace at Oakland and came out on the short end of an 89-81 score. The Vols have lost twice since then and stand 0-3 on the road this season.
"It's a lot tougher than at home, I'll tell you that," freshman Josh Richardson said. "You just have to capitalize on the road because it's so easy for the home team's crowd to get behind 'em, then they start going on runs. Runs are a lot harder to stop on the road than at home because everybody in the gym is rooting for them and it's a lot tougher. You've got to slow things down a lot more because they want to get out and run."
Tennessee's most recent road game was a perfect illustration of how not to win at the opponent's gym. The Vols were hurried in their shooting (5 of 21 from 3-point range), timid in their rebounding (beaten 36-26 on the backboards) and slipshod in their ball-handling (15 turnovers versus just 10 assists). The result was a humiliating 69-51 loss to the Memphis Tigers.
"Our mindset is that something like that is never going to happen again ... us getting outplayed, outhustled," sophomore guard Jordan McRae said. "They pushed us down, and we didn't do anything. That kind of stuff can't happen."
Martin agreed, noting: "I didn't think we did a good job in our last road game at Memphis. First of all, we didn't do a good job of scoring. Then we broke down defensively. You have to give those guys (Tigers) credit for that but there's a certain way you play and a certain mindset you have to have on the road."
Basically that mindset can be summed up in three words: Whatever it takes.
"The great ones find ways to win on the road," Martin said. "It might be an ugly performance but you've got to find a way to win."
Whether Tennessee (8-7 overall, 1-0 SEC) is resourceful enough to find a way to beat Mississippi State (13-3, 0-1) on its home floor tonight remains to be seen. To their credit, the Vols found a way to shock No. 13 Florida 67-56 last Saturday in Knoxville. That win worked wonders for team morale and confidence.
"It definitely shoots through the roof," junior forward Jeronne Maymon said. "But it's only one game. You can't read too much into it or you'll go out the next game and lose terribly. You have to stay grounded and keep pushing."
NOTES: Mississippi State starter Jalen Steele is a 6-3 sophomore from Knoxville who averages 7.4 points per game. He attended Fulton High, where he was a teammate of Vol freshman walk-on Galen Campbell.... The Bulldogs' other starters project to be 6-11, 249-pound junior Arnett Moultrie (16.2 points, 11.3 rebounds per game), 6-9, 260-pound junior Wendell Lewis (5.5 points, 4.4 rebounds), 6-8, 204-pound freshman Rodney Hood (12.6 points, 5.4 rebounds) and 6-2, 176-pound senior guard Dee Bost (16.2 points, 4.3 assists per game).... Lewis dunked off a Bost assist with three seconds left to give Mississippi State a 70-69 win at Thompson-Boling Arena last February.... The 3-point shot could be a real key this evening. Tennessee shoots 37.5 percent from 3 but the Bulldogs limit opponents to a mere 30.7-percent success rate from 3.... Tonight's game will be televised by ESPN2 with an 8 o'clock Central (9 Eastern) tipoff.