Terrific turnaround

The odds of going 0 for 12 from the free-throw line in a college basketball game must be almost a million to one.

The odds of going 0 for 12 and then going 8 for 8 from the line in a game two months later must be almost incalculable.

Yet, both of these mind-boggling feats have been accomplished during the 2007-08 season by Tennessee sophomore Ramar Smith.

Smith shot 12 consecutive bricks from the foul line in Tennessee's lethargic 89-75 defeat of Prairie View A&M on Nov. 16, losing the first-team point guard job in the process.

Eight weeks later, though, on Jan. 12 at South Carolina, he drained 8 of 8 from the charity stripe as the Vols manhandled the homestanding Gamecocks 80-56.

"You've got to be pleased with him going 8 for 8 from the foul line against South Carolina," Vol head coach Bruce Pearl said this week. "It speaks to his mental toughness and the fact he has gotten in the gym to work on his stroke."

Obviously, Pearl isn't going to forget Smith's 0-for-12 performance from the line anytime soon. Still, he isn't going to put too much stock in it.

"I think that particular game they (misses) sort of fed off one another," the head man said. "It was more of an anomaly."

At 14-1, sixth-ranked Tennessee usually is leading in the final minutes and the opponent usually is fouling the Vols' point guard down the stretch. Obviously, they can't afford to play a point guard who might go 0 for 12 from the line in the late stages of a close game. Fortunately for UT, Smith has hit 74.4 percent of his foul shots (35 of 47) since the Prairie View meltdown, regaining the trust of his teammates and his coaches.

"It does speak volumes to his mental toughness and his work ethic," Pearl noted. "Your point guards have got to be able to shoot free throws because the ball is going to be in their hands late in the game."

Even though he has played reasonably well since the Prairie View outing, Smith has been relegated to coming off the bench in the past 12 games. Rather than pout, he has performed well in a relief role.

"He's accepting and understanding his role ... and being comfortable in it," Pearl said.

Steady senior Jordan Howell continues to start at the point, although he and the flashy Smith play roughly 20 minutes each. Pearl believes the two provide a great complement to one another.

"Ramar and Jordan couldn't be any more different, as far as their offensive abilities," the coach said. "Ramar will break the defense down and get to the foul line. He'll create a little more offense for others because of his ability to draw (defenders)."

Although he is known primarily for his slashing drives to the basket, Smith reportedly is a pretty good outside shooter. He is hitting a mediocre 26.7 percent (4 of 15) from 3-point range this season but Pearl insists that statistic is misleading.

"Ramar is a much better 3-point shooter than he has shown," the coach said. "Ramar can shoot the 3-ball."

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