How bad did we need that?!?! Vol Nation, our school, our families and our team; We all needed that. We’ve all been through so much, and apparently there are more ups and downs to come. But man, did that win feel so good! All the sacrifices… playing the right way and making the fans and your family proud on the way to getting a big win makes so many of the sacrifices we are asked to make worth it. I couldn’t help but smile ear-to-ear when I heard “It’s great to be a Tennessee Vol” echoing throughout Memorial Gym with 40 seconds left in the game last night. It was awesome!
Although we were down at halftime we thought we played pretty well defensively in the first half. Against a team that averages 70 points per game (and 80 at home), our goal was to keep them under 35 points in the first half, and we accomplished that with our lineup changes and ball pressure. The problem was that our offense was not clicking. After the first few minutes, we got away from driving the ball to the basket, did not efficiently convert in transition and struggled to counter the way they denied the ball to Scotty. At halftime the coaches discussed all of these problems and came up with a list of adjustments that needed to be made for the second half.
Our guys never panicked as our struggles continued at the start of the half and our deficit swelled to 11 points. In fact, their focus narrowed as we flexed our defensive muscles and started driving the ball to the basket time and time again on offense. They couldn’t stop it. The main reason was because we made the adjustment to the spacing of all our ballscreens, moving them to the middle of the floor in hopes of taking advantage of Vanderbilt denying Scotty. This change enabled Melvin and Scotty to attack the rim and get to the free-throw line. Ohhhh the dreaded free-throws. Let’s be honest, when we went down 11 and couldn’t make a stinking free throw, how many of you threw something at your TV or questioned if we ever make our guys work on their free throws?? I can assure we do, DAILY, (and we will continue to do so), and that was just part of the reason why we were able to go 9-of-10 down the stretch. But man, was that frustrating!
Defensively, if we bring that same effort and intensity we could have a successful remainder of the season. Holding Vandy to 51 points at home is beautiful. How good was Josh Bone? What he did tonight by locking down the SEC leader in scoring won’t show up in his stat line but it was a key to that victory. Matter of fact, a lot of our guys had similar performances as they did the little things necessary to be successful. We didn’t win that game on anything stat-related. We won that game on hustle plays and heart. How many more 50/50 balls did we get than them? We wanted that one more, and down the stretch it showed.
After the game, you could sense the relief in the locker room. The players and even entry-level members of our staff had no clue that NCAA stuff would be coming soon. We were just so happy to have gotten that win and taken another step in our mission. Coach Pearl told the team that he believes we have been playing our butts off the last few games. We just didn’t execute well enough to win. Tuesday however, when it came to crunch time, as the aggressor, we did. Although he wanted our guys to enjoy this win on the bus ride back, he reminded them that this was just one step. Our focus remains solely on improving daily. The question was asked: Will you give your all for Tennessee today, tomorrow and every day for the remainder of this season? I can’t assure you we will win the rest of our games, but I can assure you that we will continue to focus on only the things we can control and work as hard as we can. We owe it to our fans, our university, our families and each other.
Thanks for the support Nashville Vol Nation!