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Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes talks with his players, from left, Jordan Bowden (23), Kyle Alexander (11), Lamonte Turner (1) and Grant Williams (2) during a timeout in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against LSU, Saturday, Feb. 23, 2019, in Baton Rouge, La. LSU won in overtime 82-80.(AP Photo/Bill Feig)

Updated at 9:29 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 25, 2019, with more information.

KNOXVILLE — Rick Barnes made it clear Monday.

The Volunteers need more from their guards.

The Tennessee men's basketball coach said during his weekly news conference that he wants his guards to be smarter but more aggressive with the ball in their hands. The team has struggled as of late, shooting less than 45 percent in each of the past three contests — losses to Kentucky and LSU and a lackluster victory over Vanderbilt in which the Vols shot 41 percent from the field.

In those three contests, Tennessee shot a combined 43 free throws and 68 3-pointers. For a team that had topped 20 3-point attempts only nine times in the first 23 games, to have topped that total in four straight games could be part of the reason the offense has struggled.

A team whose offense is predicated on ball movement and execution has failed on both fronts recently. Tennessee averaged 20 assists in its first 24 games but has had 11, 13 and 10 in the past three.

Guards Jordan Bone, Lamonte Turner and Jordan Bowden — the team's main ball-handlers — have taken a total of 170 free throws this season, or 6.3 per game. That's the lowest per-game average for the primary guards of any team in the Southeastern Conference.

By comparison, Alabama's guards average 12.4 free throws per game, while the Kentucky and LSU guards get to the line more than 11 times per game. Even Auburn, which leads the league in 3-pointers attempted and made, sees its guards get to the line seven times per game.

"We've got too many guys playing with the ball, holding the ball too long," Barnes said. "They think they have to make a play when in reality we don't. Ever since we've been here, when we've been good is when we move the ball and we're all together as opposed to guys dribbling, dribbling, dribbling. Our guards don't get fouled; they choose to raise up and shoot difficult jump shots.

"Our guards need to get fouled more, and the only way to do that is be aggressive and not settle for jump shots."

Bowden in particular has been struggling. Once the team's leading scorer in SEC play, the 6-foot-5 junior has 11 points in his last three games and is 3-for-17 from the field and 0-for-7 from 3-point range.

"It's up to him to do his job," Barnes said. "You can't put everything on certain guys; you need everybody to do their job. Consistency has been a key word for (Bowden) throughout his career, and he's at his best when he's totally locked in on the defensive end and can get out running in transition."

Contact Gene Henley at ghenley@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @genehenley3 or at Facebook.com/VolsUpdate.

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