Unlikely hero

After five losses in the previous six games, the Tenenssee basketball team desperately needed to "stop the bleeding" Wednesday night against Georgia. An unlikely Volunteer provided the tourniquet.

Reserve guard Jordan Howell scored a career-high 11 points and nailed two clutch 3-pointers down the stretch, enabling the Big Orange to dump the Bulldogs 82-71.

The first 3-pointer came from the left wing with 5:30 remaining, pushing Tennessee's lead to 69-56. Four minutes later, with at least 20 seconds left on the shot clock, he bombed home a 3 from the left corner, widening the gap to 79-63 with 1:33 to play.

Head coach Bruce Pearl praised Howell for exhibiting "the confidence he had to take that shot fairly late in the game, when you might have wanted to pull it out and run some offense." The coach said that bucket "put the game away. That was the nail in the coffin. I'm glad he took the shot because he was open."

Still, you wonder: Why did he unload with so much time left on the shot clock?

"I caught it in rhythm. There wasn't a hesitation," Howell said. "Coach Pearl kept telling us to keep being aggressive, keep looking for your shots. If it was a minute or 30 seconds (left) I probably would've just thrown it back out. But they (Bulldogs) were still there making a run, and I think we needed to answer. Thankfully, I was able to hit it."

Prior to Wednesday night Howell had attempted just 11 shots (making four) in the three games since returning from a seven-game absence caused by broken finger.

"I wasn't being aggressive with my shot," he said. "I was just shooting when I was open."

With SEC scoring leader Chris Lofton sidelined by a sprained ankle the past three games, Tennessee needed more offense from Howell than it was getting. Pearl reminded Howell of this a few hours before Wednesday's tip-off.

"He had a chart for my play last year and my play this year," Howell recalled. "He said, ‘You're twice as good as you were last year because you've worked so hard, but you're not playing like it, though.'

"He said my points were up because I was playing more minutes but that I could be better. He sat down with me one-on-one and said, ‘I want you to be more aggressive. I want you looking for your shots.'"

Pearl mentioned the chat with Howell during his post-game remarks, noting: "I had a real good conversation with Jordan before the game about being aggressive and taking advantage of the minutes and the opportunity, and I think he really was pleased to hear that."

Howell conceded as much. Still, he needed an in-game reminder from Pearl to be more aggressive offensively.

"He even re-emphasized it in one of the huddles," Howell noted. "He said, ‘I just called this play for you and you didn't even look to score.' That was big for my confidence, knowing he's putting that (faith) in me and giving me an opportunity to show that to him."


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