KNOXVILLE — The Tennessee basketball Volunteers' last loss might have been their most humbling.
With the second half of the Southeastern Conference schedule still ahead, the Vols know a 3-6 start in league play can't cause them to slump their collective shoulders.
To snap its two-game skid, Tennessee must win on the road for the first time this season.
"We don't want to lose at home, and to really get beat by one of their players, it was tough for us," leading scorer Jordan McRae said of the Vols' 68-62 midweek loss to Georgia and 24-point scorer Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. "I think we're fine. We've just got to keep on trying to work and win the games we're supposed to win."
Despite Tennessee's 0-6 record in opponents' gyms, this afternoon's trip to South Carolina certainly qualifies as a winnable game. The Vols own 11 consecutive wins against the Gamecocks, who are under first-year coach Frank Martin. After a 10-2 nondescript nonconference schedule, South Carolina is only 2-7 in the SEC.
The Vols are just one game better and entered Saturday's games 10th in the SEC, well below their preseason aspirations.
"One game at a time," second-year coach Cuonzo Martin said. "You set goals at the beginning of the season, but at this point you're talking about one game at a time and doing everything in your power to win the next game. You can't get caught up in nine games -- really 10 games with a conference tournament game."
Given its winless road record and inability to make key plays down the stretch of close games in many of those 10 defeats, Tennessee fits the bill of a fragile team. The Vols' season ran into adversity before it began with Jeronne Maymon's health. The absence of the team's vocal leader and toughest player has been obvious.
Tennessee's offense has been marred by turnovers and droughts at inopportune times. The Vols also have failed to get stops defensively in key moments. Trae Golden's struggles have prompted more ball-handling responsibility for McRae.
A team that struggles shooting the ball from the perimeter and the free-throw line further hurts itself with a heavy turnover rate and poor assist-to-turnover numbers. In SEC play, Tennessee has 32 more turnovers than assists.
"There could be more assists," Martin said. "When Jarnell [Stokes] passes it out, it's just a matter of capitalizing on those situations when they double team, but it's really penetrating and pitching and finding your shooters. You've got to reverse that thing, because it's hard to get assists when you're getting turnovers."
Despite the struggles, Tennessee's players insist they're not sulking.
"I know Coach Martin will have us ready to play every game," Stokes said after Wednesday's loss. "We'll go out and play our hardest every game. I'm not concerned about losing confidence.
"I think we'll play hard every game. I didn't expect to be 3-6 in the SEC, but all we can do is worry about the future and correct all our mistakes."
In the six days following today's game, Tennessee visits Vanderbilt on Wednesday and hosts Kentucky on Saturday.
"If we can go into Saturday with two wins under us, that'd feel really good," McRae said. "It's tough to keep playing hard and keep trying, losing two in a row and losing at home. But I think our team's doing a good job of practicing hard and not letting losses affect us."
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...
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