Clearing the air

When Tennessee's basketball team needs a bucket, Tyler Smith calls for the ball. When the team needs direction, he calls for a team meeting.

On the heels of last week's 90-72 home-floor loss to Kentucky – a game which saw UK's Jodie Meeks hang 54 points on the Big Orange – Smith knew the Vols were in desperate need of a little get-together.

"I called it," he said of a Wednesday gathering in which the Vols cleared the air in hopes of snapping out of a skid which had seen them lose three of four games.

"Coach (Bruce Pearl) thought we was going to watch the film but all of the guys knew what had happened and knew how bad it hurt to see a guy like that (Meeks) will his team to victory," Smith recalled. "He had 54 – an unbelievable effort – but nobody else scored in double figures. We still had a chance to win the game, even though a guy comes out knocking down shots like that. You've still got to stay focused and stay in the game."

The gist of the ensuing closed-door meeting was a discussion of commitment.

"The commitment was committing to Tennessee," Smith said. "The offense is there; we're leading the league in scoring. We've just got to play defense and we'll be fine."

The meeting apparently helped a bit. Determined to snap a two-game home-court losing streak, the Vols jumped to a 41-22 lead against visiting South Carolina Saturday evening, although they had to hang on at the finish to notch an 82-79 victory.

"It was real important," Smith said. "We didn't want to go into a three-game losing streak at home. We took pride in that (37-game home winning streak) and in what Tennessee had done in the past."

Coming off a 31-5 record and SEC title in 2007-08, the Vols were consensus picks to repeat as conference champs in '08-09. At 11-5, they are not the team they were projected to be but the rocky start has taught them one valuable lesson.

"We're all in it together," Smith said. "At first, you couldn't really see it. At the meeting I think we all pulled together and realized that some of us are going to have to make sacrifices to make this team better – whether it's less shots, giving up open shots or some guys taking charges who never took charges in their life.

"It's just those little things that's going to help us win."

Sophomore Brian Williams believes the meeting will pay big dividends in the weeks to come, noting that the Vols sought to "come together as a team and bring all the stuff that has been bringing us down together. I think it panned out."

Although the meeting was called in a time of distress, freshman Scotty Hopson thought the tone was generally upbeat.

"Just keeping our confidence up and staying together," he said. "When everybody's contributing and doing well, we'll be fine."


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