Tennessee came just on possession away from stealing a win over Georgia Tech on the road Monday, and Rick Barnes saw plenty of good to glean from his team's 69-67 loss to the Yellow Jackets in Atlanta. The Vols had the ball with the chance to win on the road in their first away game of the season and outmuscled and outrebounded a much bigger Georgia Tech squad. But Tennessee also struggled to sustain offensive success in the second half as Kevin Punter began cramping and the lack of depth at point guard began to show.
Barnes' squad had more turnovers (16) than assists (9) in Monday's contest, a trend that needs to end quickly as Tennessee continues non-conference play in November.
"We've got to get some more help at the point," Rick Barnes said at his Wednesday press conference. "We need to probably get Shembari (Phillips) trying to do just a couple of things here or there at the point. Armani (Moore) can do that, but when he goes over there now he's got to understand he's got to get the ball moving. He's got to get some offensive rebounds so he's not standing there wondering what he's doing."
The Vols hope to get more production at the point Thursday when they take on Marshall, a team coming off an exhibition game loss to Newberry, 101-89. In the Thundering Herd's first exhibition contest, they knocked down 16 3-pointers for an average of 13 per exhibition game. Marshall coach Dan D'Antonio, brother of former NBA head coach Mike D'Antonio, likes to play fast, shoot from behind the arc and press on the defensive end.
"Anybody that does that gets your attention," Barnes said. "They're going to be prepared to get down the floor with it and put you in a lot of situations where they want to get you on the ball and keep it moving.They're going to take the shots when they're there, so we're going to have to, one, get back and get set, and work hard at defending the 3-point line."
D'Antonio's squad only has one starter listed over 6-foot-5, and one of the Vols' key players tasked with scoring inside on Marshall may not be available for the game. Robert Hubbs did not practice Wednesday due to an illness and has been limited in practice the past few weeks as he battles both a sore right knee and groin injury.
The junior, who Barnes likes playing 15 feet and in of the basket, has averaged 15.5 points, 2.5 rebounds and 33 minutes in his first two games despite fighting through injuries.
"It's day-to-day. We don't know," Barnes said of Hubbs' status. "We've got a short-term plan and a long-term plan, in terms of Dec. 1. We'll have some time there where we feel we've got to do something medically there. He was good (Tuesday), which that hasn't been the case after games and scrimmages ... He needs to practice. If not, you see he gets tired and it hurts him, probably moreso on the defensive end."
With Hubbs' status in limbo, Tennessee will utilize a young core of players to complement veterans like Punter, Moore and Jabari McGhee. It won't much matter to Barnes who the Vols trot out there, though, because he likes the way his players have performed collectively in the first two games as they continue to grasp his quick offensive system.
"I really like our guys a lot," Barnes said. "I do think they're learning. We don't obviously have a lot of room for error, but the fact is, we proved the other night that we're going to compete. We've just go to get so much better with our offensive execution. We can't rely on Armani breaking out of the offense and him getting the ball and him backing his way down. We can't get that stagnate."