Knoxville, Tenn.--(UTSports) As the Tennessee basketball team prepares to begin a four-game holiday homestand with a 7 p.m. ET contest against NC State Wednesday at Thompson-Boling Arena, it’s focusing on fixing correctable mistakes that have shown up at times through the first nine games of the season.
Though the Volunteers (6-3) have displayed tremendous proficiency in protecting the basketball and creating extra possessions – UT ranks third nationally in fewest turnovers per game (9.1) and 11th nationally in offensive rebounds per game (15.4) – there are areas where improvement is necessary.
Tennessee head coach Cuonzo Martin said some of the same issues that hindered the Vols in their two November setbacks were visible in UT’s loss at 11th-ranked Wichita State Saturday.
“The biggest key is capitalizing down the stretch in hostile environment, “Martin said. “We missed some opportunities in transition on layups, and they turned around and capitalized – whether they made a 3-point shot or got to the free-throw line. When you’re in an environment like that against a quality opponent, you can’t make those types of mistakes.”
Senior guard Jordan McRae, who ranks third in the SEC in scoring at 19.6 points per game, pointed to similar blemishes that can be eliminated through practice and focus.
“In all our losses, there have been small things that can definitely be corrected.” McRae said. “We just have to learn from (each loss). We have to do a better job of knocking down our free throws on the road.”
The road won’t be a concern for the rest of this month, as Tennessee hosts NC State, Morehead State (Dec. 23), Virginia (Dec. 30) and Tusculum College (Jan. 4) consecutively before jumping into SEC play.
“I’ll be glad to be good to be back in front of our fans,” McRae said. “Coming off a loss, we definitely need some home support.”
With students on break for the holidays, lower-level tickets for Tennessee’s upcoming games at Thompson-Boling Arena are available. Fans can purchase tickets by visiting UTtix.com or calling the UT Ticket Office at 1-800-332-8657.
SCOUTING THE WOLFPACK
NC State (7-2) enters Wednesday’s game riding a five-game win streak. However, the Wolfpack lost its only true road game this season, falling at Cincinnati Nov. 12.
Interestingly, the Vols also played in Cincinnati, Ohio, that same night. Tennessee dropped its season-opener against Xavier at Cintas Center – less than five miles away from Fifth Third Arena, where the Wolfpack faced the Bearcats.
NC State is led by sophomore forward T.J. Warren, who leads the Atlantic Coast Conference and ranks sixth in the NCAA in scoring with 23.3 points per game.
The Wolfpack roster also boasts a face familiar to veteran Vols, as junior guard Ralston Turner – who averages 9.9 points per game this season – played at LSU from 2011-2012 before transferring to NC State last year (he sat out last season).
Tennessee trails its all-time series against NC State 5-3, and the Wolfpack has won both previous meetings in Knoxville (1991 and 1994).
The Vols went 5-9 against current NC State head coach Mark Gottfried during his 11-year tenure as the head coach at SEC rival Alabama from 1999-2009.
Tennessee will travel to NC State next season to complete the current home-and-home contract with the Wolfpack.
ACC ACTION ABOUNDS
In a span of just 31 days, Tennessee will square off against three opponents from the Atlantic Coast Conference.
The Volunteers posted a dominating 82-63 win over Wake Forest at the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament Nov. 30 in the Bahamas. And after Wednesday’s clash with NC State, Tennessee also plays host to Virginia Dec. 30.
Tennessee owns a 100-84 all-time record against current members of the ACC.
“It’s a great chance to play really good teams, but (these next two ACC games) are at our homecourt,” freshman Darius Thompson said of UT’s abundance of ACC opposition. “We have a homecourt advantage here (at Thompson-Boling Arena), so we have to take care of it.”
ORANGE MAMBA STRIKES AGAIN
Saturday afternoon, more than 15,000 basketball fans in Wichita, Kan., were introduced to the video-game-like athleticism of Tennessee guard Jordan McRae. With 12:50 remaining in the second half of the Vols game at Wichita State, the senior threw down what some are calling the “Dunk of the Year” more than one month into the college season.
The dunk had the Internet buzzing. Fans quickly took to Twitter to describe the dunk with words like “wow,” “posterized” and “nasty.”
ESPN immediately posted a video the dunk on YouTube, where it has amassed more than one million views in four days.
For a player known for such memorable dunks, one might think McRae has amassed a plethora of highlight-reel plays above the rim.
When asked to guess how many dunks McRae has had in his career, fellow senior Jeronne Maymon said 54, while junior Josh Richardson guessed “probably about 50.”
In actuality, McRae has only totaled 30 dunks in his career at as a Vol. In his case however, quality has taken precedence over quantity; his dunks are usually very memorable.
Saturday’s dunk-heard-round-Twitter garnered enough attention to land at the No. 5 spot on ESPN’s Top 10 Plays on SportsCenter.
Additionally, McRae passed the 1,000 career point milestone Saturday. The Midway, Ga., native became the 45th Vol in history to score 1,000 points, and he is the third-leading scorer among all active players in the SEC.
For the most up-to-date information about the Tennessee basketball program, visit UTsports.com/basketball and follow @Vol_Hoops on Twitter and Instagram.