Richardson has burden of carrying Tennessee’s offense
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — No other player in the Southeastern Conference has scored a higher percentage of his team’s points than Tennessee guard Josh Richardson.
Richardson, has averaged a team-high 16.1 points per game to account for 25.3 percent of the Volunteers’ scoring this season. The lack of proven threats beyond Richardson could be a season-long problem for the Vols (9-5, 1-1 SEC), who host No. 19 Arkansas (13-2, 2-0) on Tuesday.
“He’s probably in my humble opinion the most important player to any team in our league,” Tennessee coach Donnie Tyndall said. Tyndall quipped that “if we don’t have Josh Richardson, we might score about 15 points a game.”
Tennessee’s shortage of playmakers on offense was painfully evident Saturday when the Vols fell 56-38 to Alabama for their first home loss of the season.
Richardson scored Tennessee’s first eight points of the second half to give the Vols a 32-30 lead with 16:50 remaining. Richardson went scoreless the rest of the way, and Alabama outscored Tennessee 26-6 during that stretch.
“I just think teams are trying to get the ball out of my hands a lot more, pressuring me 94 feet,” Richardson said after the game. “I am just trying to keep attacking and adjusting to how they’re playing defense.”
Three of Tennessee’s starters — Willie Carmichael and Kevin Punter and Devon Baulkman — combined for just two points against Alabama. Richardson had 17 points.
Tennessee’s scoring struggles have Tyndall pondering lineup changes for Tuesday’s game. Tyndall, who already has used seven different lineups this season, said Monday he was leaning toward moving Robert Hubbs and Derek Reese into the lineup alongside Richardson, Baulkman and Armani Moore. That move would result in bench roles for Carmichael and Punter, who ranks second on the team with 10.2 points per game.
The Vols knew they’d have to depend heavily on Richardson, the only returning player who averaged more than 5 points per game last season for the Tennessee team that reached the NCAA regional semifinals. Richardson, a natural shooting guard, also is adjusting to a new assignment as Tennessee’s main point guard.
Heading into the season, Richardson was the only Tennessee player who had ever scored in double figures in an SEC game. Tyndall noted that Tennessee lacks a go-to post player who can get high-percentage shots or draw fouls on a consistent basis. Tennessee’s inexperience has led to growing pains for the offense.
“Defensively, I think we’ve done a pretty good job,” Tyndall said. “It’s offensively that we’ve struggled. I just don’t see that changing. I think we’ll get better at the offensive end, but with the makeup of our team, there are going to be some nights (when) for lack of a better term, it’s going to be ugly.”
Tuesday could be one of those nights if Richardson doesn’t get more help. Arkansas leads the SEC with 83.9 points per game — eight more than anyone else in the conference — while Tennessee ranks 13th out of 14 conference teams with 63.9 points per game.
Arkansas heads into Thompson-Boling Arena on a seven-game winning streak.
“If we’re not on edge and we don’t have a sense of urgency and we don’t play with detail against Arkansas, it can get ugly real quick against a team like this,” Tyndall said.