Radical on the road
Skylar McBee, Bruce Pearl at Bama (AP photo)

Posted Mar 5, 2010


Tennessee's Bruce Pearl does his finest coaching when the odds are longest against him, which probably explains why he's been so successful in SEC road games.

Heading into Saturday night's regular-season finale at Mississippi State, Pearl has a five-year SEC road record of 22-17. If you throw out the 2006-07 season, when a freshman-dominated Vol squad went 2-6, he's 20-11 in away games against league foes. Most of his conference rivals would kill for that kind of road record.

So, what is the secret to Pearl's success?

"He gets you ready on the road," senior Wayne Chism said. "He lets you know that you're playing the opponent and the referees at the same time. The only way you're going to win on the road is to go in there and play well to get a good whistle.

"That's what we're going to have to do to win on the road, and what we've been doing on the road. We go in to play our best and get a good whistle. When we get a good whistle, we end up winning the majority of our games on the road."

Several Tennessee players seem to get more fired up for road games than home games. Chism believes he knows why.

"Because you ain't got no crowd," he said. "You're going to have to get yourself pumped by yourself. When you do a great job of pumping yourself up, you end up having a great game and your team ends up coming out with a win."

Tennessee has been a wildly erratic road team this season. The Vols played exceptionally well at Alabama (63-56 win), at Kentucky (73-62 loss) and at South Carolina (63-55 win). They were half-decent at LSU (59-54 win) but played poorly in lopsided losses at Georgia (78-63), at Vanderbilt (90-71) and at Florida (75-62).

Senior wing J.P. Prince says the wide range of performance levels on the road can be traced to one variable.

"Making shots," he said. "When you're on the road you've got to make shots. You've got to silence the crowd. You've got to start off good. You've got to be the aggressor. You're not going to get a lot of advantages at somebody else's place. You've got to come out and set the tone and make shots.

"I tell our shooters before every road game: 'I hope you brought your jumper with you because you're not going to get a lot of calls going to the hole. You're going to have to make shots to free people up and get the inside game going.'"

Obviously, a rowdy crowd can have a positive effect on the home team and a negative impact on the visitor. That's especially true in a game's opening minutes.

"You just want to withstand those first five to seven minutes of a road game," Prince said. "That's when the crowd is amped and everybody's focused."

The crowd certainly will be "amped" Saturday night in Starkville, with Mississippi State's seniors playing their final game at Humphrey Coliseum and trying desperately to secure an NCAA Tournament bid.

"It's going to be Senior Night," Prince noted. "It's going to be a tough environment."

SEC road games always present a tough environment. That makes Pearl's 22-17 record in them all the more noteworthy.

UT'S SEC ROAD GAMES UNDER PEARL

2005-06: 6 wins, 2 losses

2006-07: 2 wins, 6 losses

2007-08: 6 wins, 2 losses

2008-09: 5 wins, 3 losses

2009-10: 3 wins, 4 losses


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