Junior guard Cameron Tatum is chief among the role players Tennessee's coaches are counting on to produce more points in big games.
But 20 percent of a team’s rotation producing 80 percent of the team’s points isn’t the proper formula to win big games.
That’s one of the many messages being preached to Tennessee (16-11, 6-6 SEC) heading into Tuesday’s game at 18th-ranked Vanderbilt (20-6, 8-4).
Hopson scored a career-high 32 points against Georgia on Saturday in Thompson-Boling Arena, and the consistently solid Harris added 18.
The rest of the Volunteers scored 13 points.
So UT lost, 69-63.
“We need those (other) guys to contribute and play well, and they will play well,” said Harris, who despite a recent dip has been one of the nation’s top freshmen. “That was just one game where we didn’t get a lot of stuff contributed from other guys, but it’s one game. Those guys, all those other guys, they’re going to do a better job.
“I trust them, and we trust them as a team to come back and have great games, because they’re primetime players.”
They don’t necessarily need to be primetime.
Skylar McBee said "it's a fine line" between shooting a little more and shooting too much.
They just need to do something.
No Vol other than Hopson or Harris made more than a single field goal against the Bulldogs. No Vol other than Hopson or Harris made more than one free throw. No Vol other than Hopson or Harris scored more than three points.
Hopson was 12-for-19 from the field against Georgia. Harris 7-for-17 from the field. The other eight Vols shot a combined 6-for-24.
“We play better when everybody contributes,” UT coach Bruce Pearl. “And right now, we’ve got Tobias and Scotty looking aggressive, and the rest of them are being tentative.”
It’s tough to disagree with Pearl’s point, and associate head coach Tony Jones didn’t. But Jones added that Saturday’s situation — an early, double-digit deficit — necessitated scoring totals being at least a little more lopsided.
“We called some plays for Scotty to get going, and Tobias scored some around the basket,” Jones said. “Each and every possession is valuable when you’re down so much early in the game, so we’re looking for out best opportunities to get baskets, and out mindset was for Scotty to get us going. And he did a great job, obviously.
“Other guys still have roles when we do that, though. We don’t want guys just standing around.”
Role players didn’t just stand around in UT’s best performances this season.
Vols coaches wouldn't mind seeing senior center Brian Williams look to score more when getting the ball on the block. In fact, the team needs it.
Hopson and Harris scored between 40 and 46 percent of the Vols’ points in their three biggest wins — Villanova, Pittsburgh and Vanderbilt. Hopson was UT’s leading scorer in all three games, but Harris was the second-leading scorer just once, and at least four Vols reached double-digits in each game.
Against Villanova, Hopson scored 18, junior guard Cameron Tatum had 17, Harris scored 15 and senior center Brian Williams added 12.
Against Pitt, Hopson had 27, senior point guard Melvin Goins had 19 and Tatum added 12. Harris scored just seven points against the Panthers.
Against Vanderbilt, Hopson scored 16, Harris had 15, Tatum scored 12 and sophomore guard Skylar McBee added 10.
Hopson and Harris provided 79 percent of UT’s points in the home loss to Georgia and just 51 percent of UT’s points when the Vols beat the Bulldogs in Athens.
“We’re at out best when we get a lot of guys contributing,” Jones said. “That scenario with Scotty playing exceptionally well and Tobias being relatively efficient doesn’t bode well for us winning the basketball game. We need more from the other guys ... guys like Cameron Tatum. Brian Williams had been playing well until (Saturday). It ain’t like he played bad, but we were accustomed to getting about 12 points and 8 rebounds from Brian, and we didn’t get that. Melvin Goins played well against South Carolina, and he didn’t shoot well.”
The Vols’ role players know they need to shoot more.
But they don’t seem to know how much more is too much more.
“I think you just have to find that line between being a little bit too passive and being too aggressive,” McBee said. “You’ve just got to find that spot where you’re at that many shots where he wants you to take those shots, but you’re still getting it to your best players and letting them do what they need to do.”
But, as McBee added, “that’s a tough thing to do.”
“When a player like Scotty’s on a role, you do have to give him the ball,” McBee said. “But you’ve also got to pick your spots where other players may have good looks, and you may look to them. I think you’ve got to get everybody involved, because that’s when we’re at our best.
“It’s a fine line, and it’s tough to decide. You just kind of go out there, and I guess if we’ve not been doing that, be a little bit more aggressive than we have been and see how that works.”
Senior guard Josh Bone has no problem with putting up a few more shots — if that’s OK with the coaches.
“I can’t be a robot out there,” Bone said. “I feel like I can do a lot on the offensive end to help, but the ball is not coming to me a lot, so it’s kind of ... I don’t know, it’s hard to kind of aggressive like that when you don’t want to make mistakes. But I do need to be more aggressive, I feel like, on the offensive end, because I can take my man off the dribble and do more things. Coach Pearl said it (Saturday) after the game. People need to step up. If I can do that offensively ... I mean, it helps the team, and I like to do it, so I’ll try hard to do it.
“Everybody needs to step up. That’s the biggest thing. We can’t have Tobias and Scotty having all the points. We need to do more to get open. We can’t do a lot of watching. We just have to play within the system but be more aggressive so we can put more points on the board and contribute more.”
That would please Pearl, whose main message to his Vols the past few days has been simple.
“You either have it or you don’t,” he said. “I told the team, ‘If you’ve got more, it’s time. If this is it, we’re going to have a hard time beating teams on our schedule.’
“I just need more from pretty much everybody in the room.”
Contact Wes Rucker at firstname.lastname@example.org, www.twitter.com/wesrucker247 or www.facebook.com/wesrucker247