One reason Tennessee’s basketball team has a disappointing 16-10 overall record and 7-6 SEC mark is that all of the best scorers on its bench are wearing suits.
Head coach Cuonzo Martin scored 1,666 points at Purdue. Associate head coach Tracy Webster scored 1,264 at Wisconsin. Assistant Kent Williams scored 2,012 at Southern Illinois and assistant Jon Harris 439 at Marquette. The quartet combined for 5,381 points, making it the highest-scoring coaching staff in college hoops.
Apparently, none of this scoring prowess has rubbed off on Vol reserves. Heading into Saturday’s game at Texas A&M they have provided precious little punch this season.
Check out their contributions in SEC play:
- D’Montre Edwards produced 3 points and Derek Reese 2 in a 68-50 beat-down of LSU.
- Edwards, Reese and A.J. Davis recorded 3 points each in a 57-56 loss to Texas A&M.
- Reese scored 4 points and Darius Thompson 2 in a 78-67 defeat of Auburn.
- Thompson (5), Armani Moore (4) and Rawane Ndiaye (2) combined for 11 points in a 74-66 loss at Kentucky.
- Moore scored 5 points and Thompson 1 in an 81-74 defeat of Arkansas.
- Moore (6), Edwards (2) and Ndiaye (2) combined for 10 points in a 67-41 humiliation at Florida.
- Antonio Barton (4), Moore (2) and Edwards (2) combined for 8 points in an 86-70 defeat of Ole Miss.
- Barton scored 2 points and Moore 1 in a 76-59 win at Alabama.
- Barton (6), Moore (2) and Davis (2) combined for 10 points in a 64-60 loss at Vanderbilt.
- Moore (9) and Barton (4) combined for 13 points in a 72-53 defeat of South Carolina.
- Barton (6) was the only reserve to score in a 67-58 loss to Florida.
- Barton produced 2 points and Reese 1 in a 75-70 loss at Missouri.
Tennessee finally got some punch from its subs Tuesday night against Georgia. Barton scored 12 points and Reese 5 in a 67-48 romp. Getting double-digit production from Barton was huge.
"I feel like he is the X-factor of the team by contributing on the outside,” teammate Jarnell Stokes said. “Having someone else besides Jordan (McRae) shooting on the outside helps us a lot."
Tennessee’s head coach agrees that Barton can provide a huge lift off the bench.
“It takes us to another level because now you have five guys (who can score) out there,” Cuonzo Martin said. “Jeronne (Maymon) and Jarnell do what they do around the rim. Then you have three perimeter guys that can make shots, with the ability to drive the basketball. It just takes you to another level.”
Unfortunately for the Vols, their bench has been a no-show most nights. Barton’s 7.4 points-per-game average is skewed by the fact he started 17 early season games. He is hitting just 38.5 percent from the field. Moore averages a mere 2.4 points per game, Reese 2.8, Edwards 2.4, Davis 1.6, Ndiaye 0.9 and Quinton Chievous 0.3.
Clearly, Tennessee’s backup brigade is little help offensively. It’s reminiscent of the reserve units former Vol coach Kevin O’Neill joked about back in the mid-1990s.
“Going to my bench is like going to a video store late on a Saturday night,” O’Neill wisecracked. “There aren’t many choices left.”
Martin isn’t inclined to joke about his lack of bench production. He isn’t inclined to fret about it, either. He says it isn’t a concern.
“Not at all. Not at all,” he said this week. “When you come off the bench (you must) defend, rebound, play hard. There can’t be minuses (UT allowed more points than it scored) when you leave the game. You want to leave the game with pluses as a guy coming off the bench.
“You can’t have a lot of breakdowns. If you’re not making shots that’s fine because you have guys on the floor that can make shots and make plays ... as long as you’re not breaking down.”
Barton has provided occasional sparks off the bench since surrendering the point-guard reins to Thompson seven games ago. Barton seems quite comfortable with the sixth-man role.
"I don't care about starting,” he said. “I just want to come in and play the game and do what's best for the team. If that means coming off the bench and being the spark, then so be it."
As a senior who has been a reserve for much of his career, Barton understands how vital a quality backup can be.
“You’ve just got to come in and have that spark,” he said. “The first five set the tone, and it’s up to the guys coming off the bench to carry on and affect the game.”
One Vol reserve who shows the ability to “affect the game” on occasion is Reese. The 6-foot-8 sophomore produced 12 points and 10 rebounds against Morehead State on Dec. 23, then recorded an 8-point, 7-rebound game 10 days later against Div. II Tusculum. He scored just one point in the nine games prior to his 5-point outing against Georgia, however. If Reese could develop some consistency, he could significantly bolster the bench.
“He can make shots,” Martin said. “He’s not shooting as well as he is capable of shooting but he’s one of those guys that can reel off four or five shots in a row from 3-point range. We just need to get him where he has that confidence to consistently shoot the ball.”
Until then, Tennessee’s bench will continue to resemble a video store late on a Saturday night.