Fast start helps

What do Tennessee's basketball games with Oklahoma State, LSU and Memphis have in common?

A. All were on the road

B. All featured slow starts by the Vols

C. All were UT losses

D. All of the above

The answer is D, which is why a quick start could be important in tonight's 8 p.m. EST tip-off at Mississippi State.

Tennessee stumbled out of the gate in Game 7 against OSU, resulting in an early 23-13 deficit. The Vols struggled again in Game 13 at LSU, scoring just eight points during the first 11 minutes and falling behind 16-8. The Big Orange was at it again in Game 14 at Memphis, trailing 24-15 midway through the first half.

A slow start isn't always fatal, of course. Tennessee sank just one of its first nine field-goal tries at South Carolina but rallied from a 15-point deficit to win. That won't happen often, however, which is why coach Bruce Pearl is hoping his team can start quickly tonight in Starkville.

"It's real important," he said. "If you're not in range (of the lead), you're going to be in trouble. Obviously, it gets the home crowd into it and gives the opponent confidence to play at a higher level and let their crowd energize them."

With Tennessee sporting a No. 19 national ranking and coming off a huge upset of Florida, the Vols must guard against overconfidence vs. a Bulldog team that has lost four games in a row and was spanked 80-52 by Vanderbilt last Saturday. Pearl says the Vols have no reason to be cocky.

"I don't think we'll be disrupted by the crowd and I don't think we'll be disrupted by our own success to this point," the coach said. "Mississippi State's been to four NCAA Tournaments the past four years and they've had four 20-win seasons. That's uncharted territory for our basketball team. We're trying to get to where they ARE."

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