A shooter should shoot

Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl can handle Skylar McBee missing shots. What the coach can't handle is McBee passing up shots. After all, a 3-point shooter that won't shoot is about as useless as a match that won't light.

Skylar McBee had been pretty useless in Games 8, 9 and 10. Clearly tentative, the 6-3 freshman attempted just six shots during that stretch, missing all six. With both his field-goal percentage and his playing time plummeting, he figured it was time for drastic measures:

In Game 11 vs. North Carolina A&T the shooter would come out shooting.

"When you shoot two shots - one in the first half and one in the second - it's hard to get in the rhythm of the game," he said. "I made a conscious decision to stop playing passive and have the mindset 'If I'm open I'm going to shoot the ball.' I think that's going to pay off."

It already has. McBee came off the bench Wednesday night, immediately hit a 3-pointer from the left wing and was fouled. His free throw completed a four-point play that boosted Tennessee's lead to 14-0. Twenty-nine seconds later he connected again from the left side as the gap widened to 19-0. About a minute later he struck at long range again - this time from the left corner - as the bulge swelled to 25-3.

McBee's 10-point first-half barrage occurred in a span of 1 minute and 47 seconds. He added a second-half layup to finish with a career-high 12 points.

"Skylar stepped up in a big way," Pearl said. "You could tell that he was annoyed and held himself personally responsible for the shooting the last two games - against Wyoming and USC. He looked like he was determined to do something about it. He didn't hesitate once when he shot the ball. It looked like he made a conscious decision to do something about it (thinking) 'I'm a shooter ... I've got to fix this.'"

That's pretty much what McBee was thinking, all right.

"I told Coach Pearl I'd been playing a little timid, didn't think I was playing up to my potential," the player said. "He said, 'You're exactly right. You can't be timid out there. You have to be aggressive. You shoot the ball well. That's what you work on and that's what you do in the game.'"

No one works on his shooting harder than McBee, who never lost confidence in his stroke, even when the shots weren't falling.

"One of the reasons Skylar's confident is that only (ex-Vol) Chris Lofton rivals him in shooting the most," Pearl said. "If those two guys were teammates, my managers would be worn out because of how many shots those kids get."

As fate would have it, Lofton was on hand Wednesday night to be honored at halftime. Thus, he was in the house when McBee got his mojo back.

"I'm kind of glad Skylar played well in front of Chris," Pearl said. "I thought that was really cool."

McBee thought so, too. Born in nearby Rutledge, he grew up a fan of the Vols in general and Lofton in particular. That made Wednesday's performance all the more meaningful.

"It was great," McBee said. "Me and Chris worked during the summer with each other. He's a phenomenal player who deserves everything this university gives to him."

Like Lofton, McBee offsets being a tad small and a step slow by working his butt off in the gym. When he isn't in school he routinely shoots until he hits 200 3-pointers twice per day. That's how he's spending his three-day Christmas vacation.

"I'll be in the Grainger High School Gym," he said. "My dad will rebound for me. He's a driver's ed teacher there, and he has a key. I'll be there every day."

It's kind of fitting, when you think about it: Doug McBee is a driver's education teacher, and his son clearly is driven.

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