Rick Barnes didn’t have any magic dust to sprinkle on Jordan Bowden following his disappointing performance against LSU on Jan. 4.
Bowden had just gone 1-for-12 from the field and 1-for-6 from the 3-point line against the Tigers. It was his sixth poor shooting performance in eight games. During that stretch, Tennessee went 3-5 with losses to Florida State, Memphis, Cincinnati, Wisconsin, and LSU and had fallen out of the top 25.
The senior guard did manage to find some offense heading into the Vols’ next game against Missouri following the 14-point loss to LSU. Bowden scored 13 points in Tennessee’s win over the Tigers on 5-of-12 shooting from the floor and 2-of-7 from the three-point line, a slight improvement from recent performances.
But in Saturday’s contest against South Carolina, Bowden turned in his worst performance of the season in the Vols’ 56-55 win over the Gamecocks.
Bowden was 1-of-17 from the floor and 1-of-12 from three. According to ESPN Stats and Info, Bowden became the first SEC player over the last 25 seasons to take 17 shots and make one or fewer field goals.
“If Jordan Bowden’s not playing well, we’re not going to leave him out there,” Rick Barnes said following the game. “We’re not going to do it. We’re going to give guys, other guys a chance to miss some of those shots too, or take some of those shots. If they miss them, they miss them.”
The Vols trailed the Gamecocks 39-31 with 13:47 remaining in the game. With Bowden struggling and hampering the offense, Barnes made the decision to throw freshman Drew Pember into the game. Alongside Santiago Vescovi, Jalen Johnson, Yves Pons, and John Fulkerson, it proved to be the difference in the game.
Tennessee promptly went on a 20-5 run with Pember in the game to take a 51-44 lead with 7:23 remaining in the game. During that span, the Knoxville native drained a three from the corner and knocked down a pair of free throws
“At that point in time, Jordan Bowden was struggling,” Barnes said. “He missed another layup – a point-blank layup. I wasn’t real happy with that, especially with a guy who’s been here for four years.
“Drew (Pember) has really worked hard in practice. We felt going in that we’re in a position right now that if they do what we ask them in practice, then we’re going to give them a chance. It was just a matter of when and where… I thought his presence out there was good. He’s a skilled player. He can make threes. He’s capable of doing that. I like the fact that he tried to take the ball to the rim like he did.”
Bowden is now shooting 33.5 percent from the floor on the season. From the three-point line, he’s shooting 29.3 percent. Over his last eight games, Bowden is making just 23.5 percent of his shots, including just 20.7 percent of his threes.
The struggles are mystifying to his teammates.
“In practice, he has not been missing his shot,” junior forward John Fulkerson said. “Maybe we need to tell him to chill out in practice so he can save them for the game. I feel like he doesn’t miss in practice, and we’re all over him on defense.”
From South Carolina coach Frank Martin’s perspective, the Gamecocks got lucky with Bowden’s struggles. Carolina didn’t do anything special or different to defend Bowden; his shots simply weren’t falling. As freshman point guard Santiago Vescovi adjusts to the way teams defend on the basketball court in the United States, which is different than how teams defend internationally, Martin believes life will become easier on Bowden.
“Jordan’s (Bowden) a heck of a player,” Martin said. “I think Rick (Barnes) is trying to find point guard play on his team. So, Jordan is having to play some point, which makes it very hard to play point and get good shots.
“I’m not trying to speak for Rick, this is just my opinion as I tried to prepare for his team today. As he (Vescovi) keeps learning and growing and understanding, I think that will start to help get Jordan more opportunities.”
Due to Tennessee’s current roster situation, Bowden has no choice but to continue to play despite his shooting struggles. His next chance to break out of his slump will be Wednesday night in Athens when the Vols take on Georgia (10-5, 0-2 SEC). Tip-off is scheduled for 7:00 PM Eastern.