Hoedown to slowdown

When a team has a double-digit lead midway through the second half, conventional wisdom suggests that it slow the pace to protect the lead. There's nothing conventional about the 2007-08 Tennessee Vols, however.

Leading Ole Miss 72-60 with 11:01 remaining Wednesday night, the normally fast-paced Vols switched their mode from hoedown to slowdown. Instead of burning clock, however, they merely succeeded in burning their lead.

Failing repeatedly in their halfcourt offense, the Vols went six-plus minutes without a basket. This enabled the visiting Rebels to make a 16-5 rally that narrowed the gap to 77-76 with 4:49 to play.

JaJuan Smith ended the drought with a nice drive at the 4:31 mark, but Tennessee promptly went two more minutes without a point. Ole Miss responded with a 7-0 spurt and grabbed an 83-79 lead with 2:22 left.

Although the Vols rallied to win 85-83, their second-half lull is cause for concern. It coincided with their decision to take the air out of the ball.

"I think we got out of the way we play ball," JaJuan Smith said. "We was doing things we usually don't do. I think we got a little raggedy right there but we called a timeout, regrouped and got ourselves together."

Asked if the "things we usually don't do" was slow the tempo, Smith nodded.

"That's not our ball," he said. "We've got to work on it and get it going."

Head coach Bruce Pearl conceded that the Vols played "a little bit of a hodge-podge offense" during their late-game lapse, adding, "We got some decent looks but it wasn't what we normally do."

With a four-point deficit and only 2:22 remaining, the Vols picked up the pace. They also picked up three late baskets – an inside bucket by Wayne Chism and two more by Tyler Smith.

As Pearl recalled: "We were able to get 'em settled in and say 'OK, let's get our spacing and let's get a look where we know what we want to do.' It started right off the bat with a side out-of-bounds (leading to Chism's layup) and continued on through a couple of play calls where we were able to get the ball in Tyler's hands."

Rather than blame the tempo change, Pearl thought the late-game fade could be traced to the fact Tennessee was coming off a 10-day layoff.

"The layoff was a factor for us. I don't know that I had them properly conditioned," he said, subsequently adding: "I thought we were pretty tired. It looked like we had a little bit of rust."

Though displeased with the late lapse, the head man was happy with the end result.

"I thought we were a little winded and I thought we were a little fatigued," he said. "But, at the end, you can't really complain because they made the plays when it counted."

Tyler Smith dismissed the notion that fatigue was a factor in Tennessee's second-half lull.

"We wasn't tired," he said. "It was just a long layoff between games. We was really anxious to be out there, and maybe we burned up all of our energy (in the first 29 minutes). But that's not an excuse. We just wasn't playing our basketball."


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