Feb. 17, 2010
BY JOSH PATE, UTSports.com
His team down by five points to the outfit that beat Tennessee with ease just a few weeks ago in Athens, head coach Bruce Pearl had a simple challenge for his Vols at halftime in the locker room.
"I asked them if they had fun in the first 20 minutes," Pearl said. "I answered the question before they could, that hopefully they did not. My thing was to come out in the second half and play better team basketball."
Tennessee (19-6, 7-4 SEC) rebounded from a 29-24 halftime deficit to beat Georgia (11-13, 3-8 SEC) 69-60 Wednesday night at Thompson-Boling Arena.
Wayne Chism was vocal early on, but it wasn't until the start of the second half that his leadership spurred No. 20 Tennessee into the lead.
Chism, who on multiple occasions got loud with his teammates to try and inspire more effort, got the second half kicked off with a basket inside to cut Georgia's lead to 29-26. J.P. Prince followed with a jumper, and Scotty Hopson hit one, too, to make it 34-30 Bulldogs. Then Chism nailed a 3-pointer to trim the gap to one at 34-33.
Georgia's Trey Thompkins, who had a game-high 25 points, hit a 3 from the top of the key to stymie the UT momentum. But it was short-lived.
Brian Williams muscled his way in for a basket in the paint, and then Prince caught Bobby Maze's alley-oop pass and threw it down for a jam to tie the game at 37 with 16:18 to play. After a Georgia miss, Maze took the ball to the rim and gave Tennessee the lead 39-37. The Vols never looked back.
"We clearly weren't. We weren't having fun at all," Chism said when asked about Pearl's remarks at halftime. "But we started having fun in the second half because we started getting better with the lineups. There were a lot of different lineups out there that they weren't used to seeing."
The change in personnel came from the tip for Pearl's Vols. Melvin Goins started at point guard, and Maze moved over to shooting guard. It didn't result in the production Pearl was hoping for, so he mixed things up even more. Williams saw 18 minutes of action (15 minutes in the second half), the most since being reinstated to the team, and provided a much-needed body inside to bang with Georgia's size.
"I did not like our determination at the defensive end at all," Georgia head coach Mark Fox said of his team's start in the second half. "I thought it was very evident to start the half that we were lacking in that area. We never corrected it.
"They were more effective in their attack and we were less aggressive defensively. We were a step behind the entire second half."
The two halves were night and day for the Vols. Tennessee shot 36.7 percent in the first half, 56.3 percent in the second. It made one free throw in the first half, but was 7-of-7 in the second half.
Defensively, the difference for the Vols was on the free throw line. Georgia was 9-of-11 in the first half but just 2-of-2 in the second half.
"I was very unhappy with our first half defense away from the bench," Pearl said. "We didn't play well as a team and didn't value possessions. How many times did we force them into a turnover and then come down and turn the ball over ourselves?"
The most noticeable change from first half to second was Prince. He had no points in the first half and attempted just one shot. He was 0-of-2 from the charity stripe. But in the second half Prince caught fire. He finished with 15 points on 6-of-9 shooting and collected seven rebounds.
The difference? Another talk from Pearl. The coach challenged his senior to take the ball to the hoop with more aggression.
"That stuff doesn't bother me," Prince said of Pearl's challenge. "He knows I'm going to take that and run with it. He knows I'm going to try to prove him wrong and pick it up. That's what I tried to do tonight and just bring it in the second half.
"The first half, it was just frustrating. They were packing it in and we weren't hitting shots. I was getting frustrated and not being aggressive. Finally, I knocked down a few shots and loosened up a little."
Pearl admitted his team's slow starts in the recent stretch is not ideal. After two losses, the Vols were able to overcome the deficit this time.
"We've not started very well," Pearl said. "We didn't start well again - and haven't for the last four games."
When asked how to address the problem, Pearl said the work continues.
"I don't know yet. I don't know," Pearl said. "We'll keep trying."