The case of the disappearing D

If the Tennessee basketball team is ever going to stop its Southeastern Conference road losing streak, the Volunteers are first going to have to stop their opponent's offense. It's as simple as that.

The Vols suffered their sixth consecutive conference road loss Saturday at Columbia, bowing 81-64 to South Carolina. The culprit was a familiar one: Tennessee's defensive effort wasn't up to snuff.

A Gamecock team that averaged just 63 points per game scored 81 against Tennessee. A Gamecock team that was shooting just 39 percent from the floor hit 53.7 against the Vols, including a sizzling 61.5 percent after intermission. A Gamecock team that was shooting a so-so 35 percent from beyond the arc hit 46.4 against the Vols.

Entering Saturday's play South Carolina had lost five games in a row and appeared to be dead in the water. By allowing the Gamecocks to hit their first five field-goal tries, however, Tennessee gave them new life.

It's understandable that a team's offense might suffer on the road. A foreign gym, a hostile crowd and unfamiliar rims could affect shooting a bit. But Tennessee's defense – rather than its offense – seems to suffer most on the road.


Vanderbilt shot just 29.8 percent a week ago at Knoxville but hit 50.0 percent in the Jan. 10 meeting at Nashville.

South Carolina shot a mere 41.0 percent Jan. 20 at Knoxville but made 53.7 percent in the game at Columbia.

Considering the level of opposition, Saturday's defensive performance against the Gamecocks may have been Tennessee's worst of the season.

There were extenuating circumstances, to be sure. Guard Chris Lofton's defensive abilities were hindered by the flare-up of his recent ankle injury. And guard JaJuan Smith, UT's best on-the-ball defender, injured his hip in the first half and was off his game thereafter.

Still, head coach Bruce Pearl was clearly displeased with the defensive effort.

"We didn't contain middle penetration," the coach said on his post-game show. "We gave 'em all of those open looks, and we gave South Carolina confidence that we weren't going to be out there (protecting the perimeter). We didn't guard 'em like they've been guarded.

"It's obviously very disappointing."

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