Quick start for Vols?

They say "It's not how you start; it's how you finish." If you start slowly on the road, however, you may be out of a game long before the finish arrives.

That's why No. 20 Tennessee (19-6 overall, 7-4 SEC) needs a quick start in today's 1:30 tipoff at South Carolina (14-11, 5-6). The Gamecocks are 11-2 at Colonial Life Arena and tough to handle at home when they build an early lead and get their fans fired up.

After a 15-2 start, Tennessee is just 4-4 over its last eight games. The Vols struggled early in six of those eight.

Check it out:

- They trailed 14-4 after five minutes Jan. 23 at Georgia and lost 78-63.

- They trailed 17-10 after seven minutes Jan. 27 against Vanderbilt and lost 85-76.

- They trailed 17-9 after eight minutes Jan. 31 against Florida but rallied to win 61-60.

- They led 17-7 after 11 minutes Feb. 4 at LSU and went on to win 59-54.

- They led 16-7 after 12 minutes Feb. 6 against South Carolina and went on to win 79-53.

- They trailed 24-8 after nine minutes Feb. 9 at Vanderbilt and lost 90-71.

- They trailed 24-16 after 14 minutes Feb. 13 at Kentucky and lost 73-62.

- They trailed 15-8 after 9 1/2 minutes Wednesday night against Georgia but rallied to win 69-60.

A lack of cohesion may have been partly responsible for the slow start vs. Georgia. Melvin Goins got his first start of the season and Brian Williams saw his first significant action (18 minutes) since December.

"We clearly wasn't together in the first half," senior post Wayne Chism said. "There was a lot of different lineups out there that we was seeing that we'd never seen before. That was very tough for us to get used to that."

Senior point guard Bobby Maze thinks too much emphasis is being placed on Tennessee's slow starts.

"At the beginning of the game teams usually don't come out that fiery," he said. "You just started the game. Once you get acclimated and comfortable, anything can happen.

"That's what happened at Kentucky. In the first half when we played zone they wasn't making shots. In the second half they started making shots, pouring in 3s and transition baskets. That's the same thing that happened to us (Wednesday vs. Georgia). We was able to get over that hump the second half."

Maze may not be worried about Tennessee's slow starts but the Vols' head coach clearly is. Bruce Pearl shuffled his lineup vs. Georgia in hopes of prompting a better start and may do the same vs. South Carolina.

"I don't know yet," he said earlier this week. "But I'll keep trying. If I knew (what's wrong), we'd be starting better."

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