Tennessee’s Basketball Vols have an edge on the road, mostly because they play with an edge on the road.
It sounds confusing but it’s true.
Head coach Donnie Tyndall uses the term “edge” to describe when his team is playing with a great sense of urgency. For whatever reason, the Vols tend to play with a lot more edge on the road than they do at home. That’s a key reason they carry a 3-1 SEC road record into Saturday’s noon tipoff at Georgia. Conversely, the Vols are 2-3 at home following Tuesday night’s loss to a weak Mississippi State team.
“I do think playing on the road makes our team more scared or on edge in a good way – not reluctant or hesitant to go play basketball,” Tyndall said. “We know it’s going to be tough on the road, so maybe that sense of urgency is a little more evident.”
When the Vols play with edge they are strong enough to beat a ranked Arkansas team in Knoxville and a pretty good South Carolina team in Columbia. When the Vols lack edge, however, they can lose to anybody, anytime and anywhere. Exhibit A was the loss to Mississippi State.
“Obviously, we have a lot of shortcomings,” Tyndall said. “We’re not the deepest team. That being said, we try to scratch and claw and compete every night.”
Tennessee’s lack of edge tends to show up most on defense. Mississippi State absolutely shredded the Vols’ 1-3-1 zone, sinking 55.9 percent (19 of 34) from the field and a mind-boggling 72.7 percent (8 of 11) from 3-point range. Basically, Rick Ray’s Bulldogs came out smoking and never cooled off.
As Vol captain Josh Richardson told InsideTennessee: “If you let a team get hot it’s going to be a rough night.”
Tuesday probably was the roughest night of the season for Tennessee. The Vols came out flat against an MSU team they torched by 14 points a month earlier in Starkville. Some of the younger players seemed to think Tennessee was good enough to win just by showing up. Not so.
“I think they’re figuring it out,” Richardson said. “We’ve still got a long way to go before we’re the team we want to be. It’s late in the year, so we’re going to just have to start figuring it out a lot faster.”
Sophomore wing Robert Hubbs understands that the Vols must play with an edge for 40 minutes, regardless of the opponent and the site.
“You just play each possession like it’s your last,” he said. “One mistake can mess up the game. You can win or lose from that – make the play or miss the play. We take that very seriously and try to stay on task.”
Maybe, but the Vols seem to take it more seriously on the road than at home.
“I guess there’s just more focus on the road,” junior guard Kevin Punter told InsideTennessee.
That appears to be true. The question is: Why?
“That’s the million-dollar question: How do you get your team to play on edge every single game?” Tyndall said. “You’d like to think you prepare them the same way but some nights it just doesn’t happen.”
Backed by a supportive crowd, most teams play with far more energy and poise at home. The 2014-15 Vols, conversely, seem to play with more confidence on the road.
“I think so,” Tyndall conceded. “We’ve had a few wins on the road. I think any time you do that the team gains a little confidence, especially with the young team that we have.”
Given that, is facing Georgia on the road preferable to playing the Bulldogs at home?
Richardson paused thoughtfully before responding: “Yeah, maybe. But Georgia’s a good team, so we’re going to have to come out and play well.”
Tyndall says the Vols must give everything they have to beat the Bulldogs, no matter where the game is held.
“It’s my job as the coach to get them to understand that,” he said. “For the most part, they have had a sense of urgency. I use the term ‘playing on edge.’ I think in 21 games our team has played on edge 18 or 19 times.
“The couple of times we haven’t the result hasn’t been good.”
GAME NOTES: Tennessee brings a 13-8 overall record and a 5-4 SEC mark into Saturday’s game. The Bulldogs are 14-7 overall and also 5-4 in the league…. Mark Fox’s team opened SEC play 0-2, won five games in a row, then lost at South Carolina on Saturday and at top-ranked Kentucky on Tuesday night…. Georgia is 10-1 at home this season…. The Dawgs rank second among all SEC teams in 3-point percentage at 41.2. They also lead the SEC in rebound margin (plus 4.4) for league play…. Center Marcus Thornton missed Georgia’s last two games with concussion symptoms and is questionable for Saturday. He leads the Bulldogs in both scoring (13.5 points per game) and rebounding (7.3 per game)…. Georgia’s J.J. Frazier is connecting at a 48.8 percent clip from behind the arc in SEC play. His 37 points Jan. 24 at Mississippi State represent the biggest scoring game by an SEC player in a conference game this season.... Saturday’s game tips off at noon with TV coverage provided by ESPN2.