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December 28, 2013

McRae trying to help offensive chemistry

Jordan McRae slumped back in the folding chair beneath him after a slow-going loss to North Carolina State on Dec. 18.

The slouching body language didn't reflect his stat line. He had just scored a season-high 26 points in the 65-58 loss at Thompson-Boling Arena. What it reflected perfectly, though, was the final score, Tennessee's slow start and the Vols' even slower finish.

It was the second disappointing Tennessee loss in as many games, following a 70-61 loss at No. 12 Wichita State on national television four days earlier.

McRae, surrounded by reporters and suffocated with questions, offered one dejectedly concise response after another.

What he spoke at length about, though, was what clearly was not working.

"I think I've got to try to do a better job of getting everyone involved," McRae said after the stumble against NC State, where he shot 27 percent from the field (6-of-22) and 25 percent from 3 (3-of-12).

"I'm taking a lot of shots right now and it's not helping us," he said. "We're still losing."

He was averaging 19.6 a game after scoring 26 that night, and like he said, it wasn't working. Especially with the Vols averaging just 63 points in their four losses.

True to his word, he got others involved when Tennessee bounced back with a 82-67 win over Morehead State Monday night. He scored a season-low 9 points on just seven attempts from the field. He had five assists.

In his place Josh Richardson scored a season-high 19 points. Derek Reese had a double-double off the bench, with 12 points and 10 boards. Inside, Jeronne Maymon had 16 and Jarnell Stokes added 13.

"I was definitely going into that game looking to pass it more and get people going," McRae said Saturday afternoon before practice at Pratt Pavilion.

The plan worked, and with it, he didn't care what his stat line read.

"A win is a win," McRae said. "Any format you can get a win in, that's the route we're trying to go.

"Sometimes when guys collapse on me I have to make some extra passes. And I'm just making conscious effort of doing that now. Trust that my team will knock down shots, and they do the same thing for me."

Richardson, after leading the Vols in points for the first time this season in the win against Morehead State, said that "conscious effort" by McRae hasn't added any pressure for others to produce.

"That's just trying new stuff," Richardson said. "It's not really a bigger sense of urgency for anyone else, like you have to do this or you have to do that. It's just, you have to step up."

Head coach Cuonzo Martin offered a different solution Saturday: More shots for McRae, more working to get open.

"I think for Jordan, I talked to him about the last game, even in the Wichita State game, I don't think he gets enough shots," Martin said. "But where he has to work is set up to get open. Cuts to get open, screens to get open.

"Guys are so attached, so he has to do a better job screening. So now all of a sudden you release that defense, get backdoor layups. But I think he needs to shoot the ball more."

Martin said McRae production against Morehead State was indicative of how he was defended.

"He goes off the bounce, guys collapse, he pitched it to the open guy," Martin said. "It'll be games like that, but for him, it might not be as many shots as far as field goals, but it has to be more free throws.

"I think that's the other thing he has to work on, getting to the free throw line more."

Against defensive-focused Virginia ― a team that started the season at No. 24 in the Associated Press preseason top 25 and held Tennessee to 38 points in a loss last year in Charlottesville ― the Vols will need more than just McRae contributing on the offensive end Monday night at Thompson-Boling Arena.

Whether it be Richardson, Stokes, Maymon or anyone else, McRae said he has confidence in his teammates, regardless of how many points he's scoring.

"I've always trusted everybody on the court. That's part of it. Every night is not your night. That's just basketball."




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