Bringin' the Heat
The Tennessee Vols are so lethargic at times that even volatile head man Bruce Pearl can't fire them up. So, when they showed zero urgency Saturday against Vanderbilt, soft-spoken interim coach Tony Jones seemingly had no chance of lighting a fire under them.
But he did. Apparently drawing on some previously unseen inner flame, Jones brought the heat at halftime, igniting a furious comeback that produced a 67-64 victory.
"It was real eye-opening," Vol freshman Tobias Harris said of Jones' halftime harangue.
Apparently, low-key Tony wasn't so low-key once his players showed up for the break on the wrong end of a 30-20 score.
"I had a few choice words for them," Jones admitted afterward. "I won't repeat any of 'em right now. But they responded. They came out and played Tennessee basketball. They wanted the game much more than Vanderbilt, in my estimation, in the second half."
Or maybe the Vols just wanted to avoid another butt-chewing from the man who is filling in while Pearl sits out an eight-game suspension.
"Coach Jones was really emotional with us because he wants to win just as much as we do," Harris said. "Him coming in the locker room and talking to us at halftime really inspired us to play great basketball."
Apparently so. Crunch these numbers:
- After shooting just 20 percent in the first half, the Vols shot 49 percent in the second.
- After being outrebounded by five in the first half, the Vols won the boards by four in the second.
- After scoring just 12 points in the paint in the first half, they scored 26 in the second.
- After getting just three points off turnovers in the first half, they got 13 in the second.
- After managing just just six second-chance points in the first half, they scored 15 in the second.
- After producing just two fast-break points in the first half, they produced 10 in the second.
- After scoring just 20 points in the first half, they scored 47 in the second.
So, what did Jones say at halftime to spark such a dramatic turnaround?
"He just basically broke down the numbers and the shooting percentages," Harris said. "It was a low-scoring half (by both teams), so we were doing something right. We just weren't connecting on the offensive end."
Asked if Jones' halftime talk was more about numbers or emotion, Harris replied: "I'd say it was 50/50."
Clearly, Jones ventured outside his comfort zone on Saturday, exhibiting an emotional side that surprised even veteran Vols.
"He's very cerebral," junior wing Cameron Tatum said. "He thinks a lot and motivates you in a different way than Coach Pearl does."
As an assistant Jones' low-key manner is the perfect complement for the high-energy Pearl. Now that they essentially share the head coaching duties - Pearl managing the practices, Jones managing the games - Tennessee's players are struggling a bit to adjust.
"It's been tough," Tatum conceded. "But, at the same time, these coaches have been with us and they've been with Coach Pearl for a while. We understand what we have to do: We just have to do a better job of carrying out our assignments and representing our coach."
The 2010-11 Vols are not easy to coach. Despite facing a must-win situation after starting SEC play 0-2, they were lackadaisical at the start of Saturday's outing. Incredibly, Jones had to remind them at halftime of the game's importance.
"Tony said we weren't playing like it was a game we needed," Tatum recalled. "We said leading up to the game how bad we needed it but we didn't come out playing like that."
Jones was so frustrated by halftime that his language proved to be even more colorful than the orange blazer he wore. Finally, the Vols got the message, playing with passion and purpose in the second half.
"I think a lot of guys took ownership and accountability," Tatum noted. "We said, 'He's right. We're talking all of this noise but we're not playing like we need this game.'
"Out of respect for our coaches and fans, we owed 'em that much."