Rick Barnes temporarily stopped his interview with reporters Friday to let one of his players answer a question for him. When asked if his players had gotten used to his candid style, the first-year Tennessee head coach ushered Admiral Schofield over from the court to the gaggle of reporters gathered around Barnes to allow his freshman the opprtunity to be honest about his coach's honesty.
"We already know it's going to come," a grinning Schofield said. "We prepare ourselves every film session and get all our feelings out, because we know we're going to hear it. That's just coach. He's always on us. He's going to be honest. We just accept that honesty is what's going to help us get better."
But on Wednesday, Barnes dipped into his motivational tactic belt on Wednesday to take it one step further than press conference frankness. Instead of calling out Detrick Mostella and Robert Hubbs in an interview or in practice, he benched the pair for the entire second half of an 84-58 loss to South Carolina. Combining for just three points and lacking in effort according to Barnes, both players were replaced by freshmen, including a walk-on in Brad Woodson.
“We watched film yesterday for a long time and talked about a lot of different things," Barnes said. "I think what they know from our staff, we watch tape, we do a lot of things with them, I think they know we’re going to speak truth. I think after seeing tape they realize what we’re talking about. What we’ve talked about more than anything else is just great effort. When we’ve played our best basketball, that’s what we’ve done and we haven't done that on the road at all, hardly ever, the way we need to consistently. Again, it’s not everybody, but overall the thing that we’re not going to tolerate is a lack of effort."
Tennessee left Columbia battered and bruised after the 26-point beatdown, but it returns home with a chance at redemption against Arkansas on Saturday. Everyone on the team will be inclined to pick up their effort after Barnes ruled Kevin Punter out for the second consecutive game as he nurses a stress fracture in his right foot. Barnes called the senior point guard "day-to-day."
"The kind of kid he is, he’s hoping to have a chance to get back and play, but what he’s got, that stress fracture is something that’s tough to deal with," Barnes said. "He’s doing everything he can to where hopefully he can get it quieted down enough. It’ll be up to him, but he won’t play tomorrow.”
With Hubbs and Mostella relegated to the bench, the young core Barnes has continually developed throughout the season was able to shine with the game out of reach. True freshmen notched 95 of the 200 minutes logged against the Gamecocks, led by Punter's replacement Shembari Phillips, who scored a career-high 16 points Wednesday.
"At one time when we thought we finally had a team out on the court that was competing, it was four freshmen and one of them being a walk-on," Barnes said. "Probably the brighest thing has been that the freshmen have been able to play some quality minutes and they do understand what it's going to be about."
Tennessee looks to continue its torrid pace inside Thompson-Boling Arena, where the Vols have won four straight games. The Razorbacks (14-14, 7-8) boast three players averaging more than 15 points in SEC play (Anthlon Bell with 16, Moses Kingsley with 15.8 and Dusty Hannahs with 15.5) but—like the Vols — have struggled mightily on the road. Mike Anderson's squad has also only won one road game this season and looks like a different team altogether away from Fayetteville.
The task of getting revenge on Arkansas, a team that thumped Tennessee at home by 18 points Feb. 6, has still elevated in difficulty with Punter out of the lineup. One of the main focuses of the Vols will be on limiting the Razorbacks' possessions and playing as clean a basketball as possible.
That, and putting forth a little effort.
"If you don’t take care of the ball, they’re going to get out in the open court. They’re going to score layups," Barnes said. "They’re very good at layups, they’re very good in transition, finding shooters that get those open looks. If you turn it over, they’re going to jump right back on you and will try to do it again, so you have to protect the ball. We’ll have to play against man and zone, so we have to, no doubt, do a better job in transition and do a better job taking care of the ball.”