Major slump

It's hard to hide on a basketball floor when you're 6-feet-10, but Major Wingate has come pretty close lately.

In Tennessee's last three games the junior center has been virtually invisible. He produced 7 points and 2 rebounds against Florida, 8 points and 4 rebounds at Mississippi State, then 6 points and 5 rebounds against South Carolina.

After averaging 12.5 points and 28 minutes in Games 9 through 14, he has averaged just 7.0 points and 18 minutes in Games 15 through 17.

The three-game slump has Vol head coach Bruce Pearl concerned but not terribly worried.

"If you look at our roster you can point to a couple of games where each player wasn't at his best," Pearl said. "Everybody's been there, and now Major's had a couple. They've all dug out of it. We're going to work on trying to get him a little sharper and more productive with the time he's on the floor."

Packing 250 pounds on his muscular frame, Major Wingate has the size, heft, strength and agility to be a force. He scored a career-high 18 points in Game 3 vs. Eastern Kentucky and contributed 17 in Game 10 vs. South Alabama. He put together three strong outings back-to-back-to-back against Georgia (14 points), LSU (13) and Memphis (11) immediately before lapsing into his current funk. That's why Pearl wants to continue working the ball inside to the big man from Florence, S.C.

"Yeah, we probably need to do it more," the coach said. "A lot of our offensive sets are designed to get the ball penetrated, and he's involved in that in a big way. The better he handles the ball the more I'm going to call his number."

To Wingate's credit, he has not allowed his offensive struggles to negatively affect his defensive performances … or his attitude.

"I haven't seen it affect him defensively. I haven't seen it affect his body language," Pearl said. "I worry about it and think about it. Against South Carolina, where he's from, he wasn't able to play as effectively…. His defense didn't drop off when he had a few offensive opportunities that he didn't finish."

A happy and productive Wingate is essential if Tennessee (14-3) is to earn a coveted NCAA Tournament bid. The Vols can't afford to have him in a prolonged funk, mental or physical.

"Major's very conscientious and he's sensitive," Pearl said. "I need to make sure he understands how much we appreciate him how much we need him."

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