Relentless rebounder

Visit InsideTennessee regularly for the most in-depth and insightful coverage of Volunteer hoops. Check out this story on an undersized Vol who is making a big impact on the backboards this season:

After spending Saturday battling on the boards with 6-foot-7, 278-pound Auburn post Cinmeon Bowers, 6-foot-5, 210-pound Tennessee power forward Armani Moore grinned sheepishly and mused: “I don’t say this about many people but he’s a grown man.”

Moore must be a grown man, too, because he outrebounded Bowers 13-8. Heading into Tuesday night’s visit from Mississippi State, Moore’s 7.0 rebound average makes him a virtual lock to lead the 2014-15 Vols since runnerup Derek Reese is well back at 5.2 per game.

Here’s a stat that provides some perspective: Armani Moore is about to become the shortest player in 42 years to lead the Vols in rebounding. Larry Robinson, also 6-feet-5, paced the Big Orange in both 1972 (9.0 per game) and 1973 (8.5 per game). The late Don Johnson, another 6-foot-5 player, led Tennessee with an average of 10.4 rebounds per game in 1971.

Moreover, it has been 59 years since a player shorter than Armani Moore led the Vols in rebounds. That would be 1956, when 6-foot-3 Carl Widseth averaged 12.2 per game.

So, what makes Armani Moore such a dynamic rebounder for his size?

“How hard he plays and how relentless he is on the boards,” senior teammate Josh Richardson told InsideTennessee. “He doesn’t just stand there and take getting boxed out. He’ll try to get around you or wheel off every time.”

Moore is long on strength, as well.

“Yeah,” Richardson said, rolling his eyes. “He’s really strong.”

Moore is really aggressive, too. You have to be when you’re constantly battling for rebounds against guys three to five inches taller and 30 to 70 pounds heavier.

"I think it is just a mentality, just going out there and try to do whatever I can do to help my team win,” he told InsideTennessee. “I might be undersized but I feel like when I'm on the court I don't want to let anyone else go harder than me. Having that mentality, I just try to go out there and compete."

He competes, all right. With the possible exception of Bernard King, Moore plays with as much determination as anyone who ever donned an orange uniform. That’s why he was able to neutralize a 278-pound bruiser like Cinmeon Bowers and help Tennessee win the boards 34-26.

"Bowers is a monster down low, and he’s hard to keep off the glass,” Tennessee coach Donnie Tyndall said. “Overall, to outbound them by eight is a testament to grit and toughness, and nobody embodies that more than Armani."

Moore’s toughness is off the charts. Signed by Cuonzo Martin as a point-guard prospect, he was inserted into the lineup at power forward after the 2012-13 Vols struggling to a 9-8 start. Though undersized, he proved so efficient that Tennessee went 11-5 in his 16 starts.

He played a reserve role in 2013-14 but his scrappy nature made him an ideal fit for the high-energy system Tyndall installed in 2014-15. Sure enough, Game 5 saw Moore put together career highs with 18 points and 13 rebounds in a November loss to Marquette. He matched the rebound total Saturday against Auburn and established a new high for points.

"It’s pretty tough to top 19 points and 13 rebounds,” Tyndall said. “He's had some big games. The thing about Armani is that he is consistent in his effort – not just on game night but in practice. There is a reason he puts up the numbers that he does: Because he does it every day in practice."

Moore isn’t the only undersized guy on Tennessee’s front line. Fellow junior Reese (6-feet-8, 220 pounds) has evolved into the starting center. The two seem to work well together, perhaps because they came in together as part of Tennessee’s 2012 signing class.

"I feel like me and Derek have something that is different than me and any other teammate,” Moore said, “because when we first came here we were actually roommates, so we have this special type of bond. I feel like I know what type of player he is and he knows what type of player I am. When we’re in the game together I feel like we’re just able to click a whole lot better than me and another one of my teammates."

Knowing how physical life can be under the boards in SEC basketball, Reese is amazed that a 6-foot-5 guy like Armani Moore is averaging seven rebounds per game.

“It’s huge,” Reese said. “No one expects it. That’s playing with a chip on your shoulder, playing with toughness, doing what Coach Tyndall’s telling us to do. It’s great that he’s doing that and it’s great that both of us can play down low and be successful doing that. Also, it creates a mismatch because Armani can take guys off the dribble.”

In addition to leading the Vols in rebounds, Moore ranks third in points (10.2 per game), second in steals (31) and first in blocked shots (24). Blessed with freaky hops and uncanny timing, he sent an inside shot by Auburn’s Bowers flying into the stands Saturday, bringing a roar from the crowd and some recognition from a teammate.

“Oh, that was nasty,” Richardson said. “I was right next to him, too. I was like (glaring with one eyebrow raised) to let him know about it. He lives for blocks like that.”

And rebounds. Don’t forget the rebounds.

GAME NOTES: Tennessee brings a 13-7 overall record and a 5-3 SEC mark into Tuesday night’s game. Mississippi State is 10-11 overall and 3-5 in the league…. The Vols won the earlier meeting in Starkville by a 61-47 margin…. Tennessee is allowing visitors to Thompson-Boling Arena an average of just 59.2 points per game this season. The Vols are 8-1 when they hold the opponent below 60…. Mississippi State is coming off an upset of LSU. The Bulldogs rank third among SEC teams in 3-point shooting at 36.8 percent but made just one of nine in the earlier game with Tennessee in Starkville. The Vols shot 50 percent (10 of 20) from 3 that evening…. Tipoff is set for 7 o’clock with TV coverage provided by the SEC Network.

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