Baldwin: We are going after Tennessee

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee's inability to win close games has sent the Volunteers tumbling down the Southeastern Conference standings.

That gives the Volunteers something in common with Vanderbilt, the team they host Thursday.

Tennessee has dropped seven of its last nine games, and five of those losses were decided by six points or fewer. Vanderbilt is 0-6 in games decided by three points or fewer, including a 76-73 overtime loss to Tennessee on Feb. 11.

"We are grinding," Tennessee coach Donnie Tyndall said. "We were fortunate to win the Vanderbilt game, but we have lost some heartbreakers. I can't fault our effort."

The Volunteers (14-12, 6-8 SEC) have tried to remain upbeat amid this late-season slide.

"Nobody's coming in being lackadaisical," Tennessee forward Armani Moore said. "Everybody's coming in every day ready to work. We watch film before practice and guys are asking questions, figuring out ways to get better. I feel that's a sign we're not giving up. As long as we're not giving up, we should be a contender in every game we play."

Inexperience may be hurting Tennessee and Vanderbilt (15-12, 5-9) in close games.

Josh Richardson is the only Tennessee player who averaged more than 5 points per game for the Volunteers last season. Vanderbilt's starting lineup includes three freshmen and a sophomore.

Vanderbilt has won four of its last six games after losing seven straight. Its most painful loss came in its first game with Tennessee, as the Commodores' struggles from the free-throw line helped the Vols erase a five-point deficit in the final 15 seconds of regulation.

Some Vanderbilt players have found other reasons for motivation.

Freshman guard Wade Baldwin IV says he heard Richardson tell a reporter after that loss that Tennessee was the tougher team down the stretch. Baldwin says the remark bothered him and said "we're going after him, we're going after Tennessee and we're going after their fans."

"You should show like some sort of respect for your opponent and stuff like that, especially because you have to play them again," Baldwin said.

Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings believes the loss itself should be motivation enough.

"If you have trouble getting ready to play your rival after you gift-wrapped the last game for them, then you don't deserve to have a uniform," Stallings said. "Of course I expect our guys to be ready to play, and I think they will be."

Tennessee forced overtime in that game because Robert Hubbs III drove the length of the court and banked in a game-tying layup at the buzzer. Tennessee's failed to capitalize on other opportunities this season when it had a chance to win or tie the game in the closing seconds.

Hubbs missed a 3-pointer that would have tied the game in a 74-69 loss at No. 18 Arkansas. Richardson missed a potential game-tying 3-pointer in a 56-53 loss at Georgia and missed a jumper Saturday that would have forced overtime in a 59-57 loss at Ole Miss.

"It's really, in my mind, a situation where it comes down to we don't get any easy baskets," Tyndall said. "In these one- or two-possession games, if you could throw it to the post and get two or three cheap buckets a game, or if you had more playmakers - the only real playmaker we have from the perimeter is Josh - it would make the game easier for everybody, but that is just an area we struggle in."

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