Who better than senior Josh Richardson to provide it?
The Vols’ senior leader, who has been through every step of UT’s ups-and-downs over the past few years, stepped up and led the Vols back into contention against the Bulldogs. From the 18:20 to the 16:31 mark of the second half, Richardson scored eight points, grabbed two rebounds and a steal to pull the Vols back within two possessions.
Richardson went on to stuff the stat sheet with 20 points (9-13 shooting), three rebounds, three assists and six steals to lead the Vols to the come-from-behind 67-55 win over the Bulldogs in front of just over 14,000 fans at Thompson-Boling Arena on Sunday afternoon.
That was an example of Richardson leading on the court. But coach Donnie Tyndall said his leadership is now extending off the court as well.
“Josh has done an incredible job of leading our team,” Tyndall said after getting his biggest win as UT’s head coach to date. “When I first got here, he led by example. He led by being a guy that everyday in practice did his job and kind of hoped guys followed suit. What Josh has really done a nice job of in the last month and a half is to challenge some guys verbally and get them to rise up to his level.
“And no one is offended by it when he does that because they know how hard he works and how much he wants to win. It’s nothing to do about him, there’s no selfishness in his actions. It’s just him wanting to be a great leader and when he talks and when he plays with a chip on his shoulder, I think the rest of our guys follow suit.”
Leading the team verbally isn’t something that comes natural to the 6-6, 200-pound native of Edmond, Okla. Perhaps that’s, in part, because he’s never needed to be that guy. He’s quiet by nature and has played with other vocal leaders in the past. He’s also advanced slowly in his career from part-time player, to key piece to team star. Regardless, Richardson is slowly embracing his role as a leader on and off the court.
“I’ve always tried to lead by example and kind of help guys out a little bit,” Richardson said. “I’ve never been a guy that really just steps up and straight up challenges everybody and just like chew them out, but Coach Tyndall was like, ‘I’ve gotta do better and be more vocal,’ so I started doing it this week and I think guys have answered the call.”
“It’s just not Josh’s personality to come out to just yell and be very vocal, but I mean, he’s doing a great job like picking it up, getting into guys, not being afraid of how they’re going to respond,” added junior Armani Moore, who added nine points, eight rebounds and three steals on Sunday. “Obviously we’ve got a lot of young guys, you know, they don’t really take criticism that well, but they’re getting better, they’re responding.”
Perhaps Richardson’s most impressive stat on Sunday was zero – as in how many turnovers he had against a Butler team that came into the game fifth in the nation in turnover margin. That’s an example of how Richardson is also growing in his role as a point guard, another aspect of the game that’s new to him this year.
“Give Josh a lot of credit,” Tyndall said. “He’s a guy who’s embraced that role. At times you can tell he gets a little off-balance or what we call ‘sped up,’ but I think he’s getting better and better…
“He’s a guy that you say, ‘well, he’s not a natural point guard and that can be a hindrance to your team,’ but on the flip side, he does some things at that position that a lot of point guards can’t do. We run some iso stuff where we get him to the post, he’s so big that he can drive some smaller guards and finish over the top, so we can complain about not having an actual point guard, but there are a lot of advantages to having him at that position.”
And now that he’s leading in multiple ways, that’s yet another advantage of having Josh Richardson on the team for Tennessee.