Fast starts = Vol victories

Good starts are nice in SEC home games. They're downright crucial in SEC road games. Consider the Tennessee Vols, who play their final league road game Thursday night at South Carolina.

An examination of the Big Orange's previous seven SEC road games reveals a clearcut correlation between a good start and a good outcome.

Consider:

- Tennessee builds an early 33-21 lead and limits Georgia to 34.5 percent first-half shooting Jan. 10 at Athens. Result: Vols win 86-77

- Tennessee bolts to a 10-1 lead and limits Vanderbilt to 20.0 percent first-half shooting Jan. 20 at Nashville. Result: Vols win 76-63

- Tennessee allows Auburn to grab a quick 15-6 lead, shoot 50 percent from the field and dominate the offensive glass en route to a 43-41 halftime lead Feb. 7 at Auburn. Result: Vols lose 78-77

- Tennessee allows Ole Miss to shoot 48.1 percent and win the backboards 21-13 en route to a 34-32 halftime lead Feb. 18 at Oxford. Result: Vols lose 81-65

- Tennessee falls behind Kentucky 13-0 right out of the gate and shoots a pitiful 28.1 percent en route to a 31-24 halftime deficit Feb. 21 at Lexington. Result: Vols lose 77-58

- Tennessee races to a 29-14 early lead vs. Florida, shooting 65.5 percent en route to a 45-33 halftime bulge March 1 at Gainesville. Result: Vols win 79-75

Each of these six road games saw the Big Orange win when it started well and lose when it started poorly. There has been only one exception to the rule – Tennessee's Feb. 4 visit to Fayetteville. The Vols trailed 17-8 early and shot just 40.7 percent en route to a 35-33 halftime deficit. Only Arkansas's utter ineptitude enabled UT to eke out a 74-72 victory.

Facing a South Carolina team that is 16-1 at home this year – including 7-0 vs. SEC opposition – a good start is vital for Tennessee Thursday night in Columbia. Bruce Pearl concedes as much.

"At Florida we shot 65 percent the first half – seven of nine from 3," the Vol coach recalled. "We didn't shoot a free throw, yet that was one of our best halves of the year. We'll take that again on Thursday."


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