KNOXVILLE — No Tennessee basketball player took Sunday's narrow loss at North Carolina harder than Robert Hubbs III.
Volunteers coach Rick Barnes said that's because no player put more into it physically and emotionally than the senior.
Hubbs often more closely resembled the five-star prospect he was coming out of Dyer County High School in west Tennessee when he scored 21 points in the 73-71 loss to the Tar Heels, and despite a sleepless night after the loss, he had 25 points on 10-of-17 shooting as the Vols beat Tennessee Tech 74-68 on Tuesday night.
"It's tough to sleep on a game like that," Hubbs said. "I basically stayed up all night just wondering how, ways we could have won the game. I think every player does that after a tough loss like that. (You're) on the plane ride back just trying to figure out things so it won't happen again. I stayed up all night just wondering, looked at some film and then moved on."
Hubbs has demonstrated extreme inconsistency or simply disappeared altogether often during his Tennessee career, but after a pair of positive performances he may be on the verge of playing up to his recruiting billing.
The past two games, Hubbs shot 19-of-28 from the field with only one 3-point attempt — a desperation attempt with the shot clock running down Tuesday — and grabbed 13 rebounds. They were only the third and fourth games of 20 or more points of Hubbs' career.
"I'm trying to score the ball as easy as possible," he said. "If people are giving me the lane just take the easy layup. There's no reason to take a bad shot. I'm just trying to make it easy on myself and my teammates. You want it easy.
"I'm just doing what I have to do," he added." It's nothing special. I'm just going out there taking my shots when it's there and, if not, rebounding the ball."
In his two seasons leading the Vols, Barnes never has minced words when it comes to the team's biggest enigma, which made his comments Tuesday night so noteworthy.
" He really showed me something at the North Carolina game," Barnes said. "Probably this year more than any game we've played, he really wanted to win. He was into that game in a way like nobody else on the team. The other guys wanted to win, but he had put his heart and soul and into it, and after the game he was devastated. The fact of the matter is, our players and our guards don't understand, he needs to be leading us in shots attempted and we need to work harder to get him the ball. People aren't just going to let us throw it to him.
"From a leadership standpoint I thought he was terrific, the best I've ever seen him, at the Carolina game from start to finish. He's not afraid to take the responsibility and say it's my fault. He's becoming the leader that we want him to be. He worked harder defensively at North Carolina than I've ever seen him because he wants to win in the worst kind of way."
Hubbs was frustrated cramps limited him in the second half and believed the outcome would have been different had that not been the case.
As the team's lone senior, Hubbs is starting to show more poise, knowing he sets the tone for the Vols.
"He's really understanding what he has to do offensively, and then defensively he's understanding what he has to do," guard Shembari Phillips said. "He's leading by actions right now. He's leading by example, and when he's playing well, we're all playing well and just following his lead."
Contact Patrick Brown at email@example.com.