Vols look to end road woes as No. 20 MSU set to host UT tonight

Vols look to end road woes as No. 20 MSU set to host UT tonight

January 12th, 2012 by Patrick Brown in Sports - College

KNOXVILLE - It's taken Josh Richardson just three tries to reach a conclusion.

The Tennessee freshman guard has played in three true road games in his brief career. Each has ended in a loss for the Volunteers, which has easily revealed one of college basketball's worst-kept secrets.

"It's a lot tougher than playing at home, I'll tell you that," Richardson said earlier this week. "You just have to capitalize not he road, that's the biggest thing. It's so easy for the other team's crowd to get behind them, and they start going on runs.

"Runs are a lot harder to stop on the road than they are at home because everybody in the gym is rooting for them. It's a lot tougher. You've got to slow things down a lot more."

The Vols open their Southeastern Conference road travels with a difficult task at 20th-ranked Mississippi State. With 6-foot-11 Arnett Moultrie and 6-10 Renardo Sidney, the Bulldogs have the inside force to handle UT bruiser Jeronne Maymon. Veteran point guard Dee Bost, talented swingman Rodney Hood and reserve guard DeVille Smith provide State's perimeter scoring punch.

That combination appears likely to give UT fits, though the Vols are coming off perhaps their best defensive performance of the season against Florida last Saturday. UT held the Gators to just 56 points, which was 28 below their season average. The Bulldogs are averaging more than 77 points in their nine home games.

"You have to be able to grind that thing out on the road," said first-year UT coach Cuonzo Martin. "You have to make it ugly for the home team. They want to play it exciting, they want to get up and down and the fans want to see a show. From that standpoint, you have to slow that thing down and make those guys work."

The Vols have failed to do that in their three road trips. In each of its visits to Oakland, College of Charleston and Memphis, UT faced double-digit deficits. The Vols shot just 41 percent combined in those three games and allowed nearly 76 points on average. Martin attributed some of those struggles to his team's inexperience.

"It's a different type of play on the road," he said. "Not that you change the style of your system, but it's a mindset you play with on the road. The first 10 minutes of road games you have to set the tone. In the second half, when you are in the game and you're executing your offense, you'll be fine.

"There's a certain way you play and a certain mindset you have to have on the road."

Though it came within the friendly confines of Thompson-Boling Arena, Richardson said the Vols' win against Florida has provided a change in mindset that must now be taken on the road.

"It gives us confidence going into conference play, knowing that we can beat one of the best teams in this league," said Richardson, who made his first start against the Gators. "Considering that they were one of the top 15 teams in the nation, that gives us confidence that we can play with anybody. I think it came at a good time. We've dropped some games this year we thought we should have won."