After another conference loss, this time on their home court, the Tennessee men’s basketball team finds itself at a crossroad.
Up until the Vols 68-62 loss to Georgia Wednesday night, Cuonzo Martin’s club had done a pretty good job of finding ways to win in Thompson Boling Arena. Their only losses were to conference opponent Ole Miss and cross-state rival Memphis at the beginning of January.
Since then they had won three straight at home, which was important considering they are winless on the road this season. The Volunteers defense was giving up just over 55 points per game during the win streak.
Somebody forgot to tell that to Georgia’s Kentavious Caldwell-Pope Wednesday night as he lit up the Vols for 24 points on 9-of-12 shooting from the field. He also made five of his team's 11 three pointers on the evening.
In other words, Tennessee had no answer for the SEC’s second leading scorer, particularly at critical junctures in the game.
“What it comes down to, especially late in the game, we’ve got to get key stops,” said a dejected Cuonzo Martin after the game. “I recognize that’s really more pride on the defensive side of the ball and especially not allow their best player to beat you.”
Caldwell-Pope scored nine points in the final five minutes to ice the game for the Bulldogs.
As a result, the Vols now find themselves sitting tied for tenth place in the SEC at 3-6 and with an overall record of 11-10. Not exactly where they wanted to be at the mid-way point in the conference schedule.
“I feel like the work is still there and the change will come,” said Skyler McBee following a nine point performance Wednesday night. “There is always a point where you can turn things around. We cannot really worry about the future.”
Well, the future doesn’t look any brighter for the Vols, as they still have dates with Kentucky, Florida, and Missouri. Luckily for them, they’re all at home.
“We have to worry about winning the next game,” said McBee. “Everything else will take care of itself. I just think we need to focus on getting better every day and try to take it to the next opponent.”
For Tennessee, that would be a road contest on Sunday against South Carolina, who’s tied for last in the SEC at 2-7. However, without a true point guard, going into Columbia to pick up that elusive first road victory isn’t going to come easy.
“You have to take pride in what you’re doing,” said Martin. “You have to have commitment and pride - that’s the bottom line. You have to have pride to represent Tennessee the right way and represent each other.”