Vols need perimeter help

InsideTennessee should be your go-to source for quality coverage of Big Orange basketball. Check out this article on an area that must improve if the Vols are to make any noise at this week's SEC Tournament in Nashville:

Tenth-seeded Tennessee has an outside shot to reach the SEC Tournament finals this week … if the Vols can make the occasional outside shot.

Unfortunately for the Big Orange, its perimeter scorers have struggled lately, which is a key reason the Vols have lost 10 of their last 13 games. Senior point guard Josh Richardson still shows up on a regular basis but most of his supporting cast apparently enrolled in the witness protection program.

“We only really have one playmaker from the perimeter, Josh Richardson,” head coach Donnie Tyndall recently conceded. “It would make the game easier for everybody (to have more), but that is just an area we struggle in."

Since Tennessee has virtually no post game, its guards must be in attack mode from opening tip to final horn. Generally that proves to be the case.

Kevin Punter has been aggressive,” Tyndall said. “Detrick Mostella probably leads America in shots per second played, and (Devon) Baulkman has had his chances. So I don't think anyone's not assertive; we just need to be a little bit more productive."

Productivity has been missing lately. Punter, the starter at shooting guard, reached double figures in six of the first 15 games, then hit a stretch from Jan. 17 to Feb. 21 that saw him produce double-digit points in 10 of 11 games. Since then, however, he has cooled off considerably.

The past four games saw Punter go 3 for 11 and score 7 points, 1 for 6 and score 2 points, 3 for 7 and score 10 points, then 3 for 9 and score 9 points. That’s a chilly 30.3 percent (10 of 33) from the field.

Punter’s last quality performance came Feb. 17 against Kentucky, when he drained 7 of 12 shots. Interestingly enough, he was 7 for 7 on 2-point shots that evening, 0 for 5 on 3-point tries. That underscores Tyndall’s contention that Tennessee is a much better team when it attacks the rim instead of launching from downtown.

Speaking of downtown, Mostella has established himself as Tennessee’s resident Downtown Dude. The 6-foot-3 freshman has launched 79 of his 121 shots from beyond the arc. Clearly, he has not met a shot he doesn’t like.

“If you look at Detrick's stat line, I think about two-thirds of his shots are coming from behind the (3-point) line,” Tyndall noted. “Other coaches are saying, 'Look, get to this guy. Make him bounce it. Make him try to make plays off the dribble,' because his assist-to-turnover ratio is 1-to-3 in league play.”

Mostella was impressive early – scoring a team-high 17 points in the opener versus Virginia Commonwealth, adding 13 in Game 4 against Kansas, then contributing nine in Game 8 at North Carolina State. He has been held scoreless in nine of the past 15 games, however, making just 11 of 48 field-goal tries during that stretch and watching his shooting percentage plummet to 28.1.

Mostella’s quickness and amazing hops made him unstoppable in the Rocky Top League last June. He shot a sizzling 64.6 percent from the field and 42.2 percent from 3 en route to averaging a league-best 39.0 points per game. He has struggled to get his slender frame to the rim against rugged SEC foes, however.

(Danny Parker/InsideTennessee.com)

“They’re making him play to his weaknesses and taking away his strengths,” Tyndall said. “A lot of the shots he takes end up pretty challenged. He has to get better with the basketball. He has to get stronger when he drives it, so that he can absorb contact and turn the corner."

Baulkman shot 49.2 percent from the field and 37.9 from 3-point range en route to averaging 35.3 points per game in the Rocky Top League. He actually has shot better from beyond the arc at Tennessee (a team-high 39.7 percent) but is connecting on just 38.2 percent overall.

Like Mostella, Baulkman got hot early in the season, producing 10, 10 and 22 points in Games 7, 8 and 9. Since then he has hit double figures just one time, however, and his scoring average has dipped from 6.2 to 4.4 points per game. His slump may be related to a shoulder problem that apparently has worsened the past month.

While Punter, Mostella and Baulkman watched their shooting percentages plummet in recent weeks, Robert Hubbs watched his rise. Since rejoining the starting lineup in Game 15 against Arkansas he has shot 43.9 percent (54 of 123) from the field and 33.9 percent (18 of 53) from 3. In the process he has raised his scoring average from 4.9 to 6.9 points per game.

“My confidence is up,” he said after posting 14 points in the regular-season finale against South Carolina. “I’m playing with extreme confidence right now. I just need to continue to be aggressive, take my shots, make my teammates better, rebound the ball and do simple things like that.”

If Hubbs can continue his elevated play he could be the other backcourt weapon Tennessee so desperately needs to make a run in the SEC Tournament.

“Yeah, definitely,” Richardson said. “He’s started hitting shots lately. He brings athleticism into the game more. I don’t think he knows how much more athletic than the opponent he is every night but I think he’s close to figuring it out.”

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