The quote “There is nothing stronger than the heart of a volunteer” is one that is often used by many of our fans and sports programs in hopes of motivating and describing our university’s sports teams. However, on this day there was one thing stronger than the heart of a volunteer, and that was the hearts of 21,000 Volunteer fans coming together and pouring their hearts out as they cheered on our team to an emotional and intense “must win” vs. in-state rival Vanderbilt. Thank you!
After that first half, who would’ve thought we would have even stayed close, let alone pulled off that win?! Honestly, how many of you either cursed, threw a chair, changed the channel or said “This game is over” as you watched that first half? I can’t imagine what Coach Pearl’s house looked like after those first 20 minutes. He probably threw every remote, chair and table he had in the house at the TV. You know what, I don’t blame him. That first half was awful!.Offensively our execution was non-existent because too many guys held the ball or over-dribbled allowing Vanderbilt’s defense to pack it in and take away our driving angles. Thank goodness our guys played so hard defensively, because it kept us in the game. As we walked off the floor, we couldn’t help but be happy only being down 10 with the way we played the first 20 minutes.
In the locker room at halftime, the mood was not somber at all. In fact, it had the temperament of Coach Jones’ pregame speech discussing how “enough is enough.” Certain players spoke up and you could sense it in their words and more importantly, in their body language that it was time to change. I thought one of the bigger momentum changes of the game was the energy and effort that our bench provided. Brian Williams, Skylar McBee, Josh Bone and Steven Pearl contagious effort and urgency enabled us to wear down our opponents on the way to forcing 21 huge turnovers. In addition, the decision they made to go zone, I believe, actually helped us as it enabled us to drive gaps rather then having to drive a guy one-on-one and then deal with the help their man defense provided.
Bottom line is that our guys showed their true character with the way they battled back, gave great effort and trusted each other to get that win Saturday. With all that we have been through, I couldn’t be happier for them, our staff and our fans. We have had some big wins in Thompson-Boling Arena, but with our season on the respirator, none were bigger then this one. Vol Nation, I honestly can’t thank you enough. You guys were AWESOME!! Now, where do we go from here? I know our staff has moved its focus to Georgia, but will our team be able to handle a big win as they prepare for Tuesday’s big game? Or, will we continue to struggle to play with consistent effort and accountability needed to be a top-tier team in the rugged SEC? Unfortunately for those with high anxiety or heart problems, I suggest going to your local pharmacy and buying a few extra doses of medication because I have a feeling that this team is going to be in many more close ball games this season. The good thing is, I believe our team demonstrated a winning character that will potentially enable us to improve enough to be a legitimate contender for the SEC Championship. Until then, tomorrow’s another opportunity for us to get better, so lets get to work.