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Everything Tennessee Assistant Rod Clark Said Ahead Of Texas A&M Game

Photo By Andrew Ferguson/Tennessee Athletics

Tennessee assistant coach Rod Clark met with the local media Monday following a 1-1 week and ahead of the Vols’ trip to No. 25 Texas A&M.

The Aggies are in second place in the SEC but still find themselves on the bubble due to an underwhelming non conference slate. Texas A&M is red-hot, entering the game winners of five straight.

Clark discussed the Vols inconsistencies, how the players hate losing and more. Here’s everything Clark as to say.

More From RTI: Where Tennessee Ranks In Feb. 20 AP Poll

On if it’s hard to match the intensity on the road

“Yeah, I think honestly the goal when you’re going out on the road is that you have to have your own level of intensity and hope that the other team matches it. For us, we say all the time before games it’s about us. If we go out every game trying to match the other team’s intensity, it’s going to be tough for us, but I think that the goal especially in a game like that, playing in Rupp Arena, on the road, you want to come out and have your own intensity and you want understand that on the road, a lot of times — coaches you this theory — you have to be 10 points better on the road. Looking at the game, that kind of showed that we did have to. So, I just think that it was just one of those games where we came out and certain things affected the way we played on either side of the ball. It’s just one of those things where we have to create our own energy on the road.”

On Texas A&M turning things around in SEC play

“Honestly I don’t think anything flipped. They were always my darkhourse team early in the year when everybody was making the rankings for teams in the league and where they would finish. I always said that Texas A&M was a team that a lot of people weren’t talking about. I think Coach Buzz Williams is a great coach and he’s one of those guys that has always had his players adapt to his toughness. And they’ve adapted the longer they’ve been around. I think Julius Marble, a Dallas kid from Michigan State, obviously he was new, he was adjusting to Coach Buzz and they had Dexter Dennis transfer from Wichita State, they were adjusting to him and the moment those guys got comfortable and acclimated to their new program, I think they’ve taken off since then.”

On what they need to do to have the intensity they’re talking about

“I think just come out and worry about us. Don’t let missed shots early in the game affect us on the other end of the floor and don’t let a couple breakdowns defensively affect us because you know, the reality is, we’re the No. 1 defense in the country, but we break down just as much as anybody else. We break down. It happens. When it happens we have to handle it and come back the next possession and buckle down even more, and have our minds wrapped around getting even more stops.”

On how important it is to get Julian Phillips and Josiah-Jordan James back

“It’s important because I think the one thing that everybody looks at our team and we do keep the next man up mentality, but I think it’s an obvious thing that everybody sees that we do miss those guys. We miss the length, we miss the ability to get to the rim from (Julian Phillips), we miss the size because obviously those are two guys that play the guard position for us and they make us bigger on the wings and we do miss it. But it’s important us to get it back. It’s important for us to have him healthy because they’re big parts of our team, especially down the stretch.”

On how exciting what Jahmai Mashack has done in their absence

“It’s been really exciting. It’s been great for him as a player. It’s been great for us as a program. He’s obviously someone that has been a developmental guy ever since he came here. Last year, you knew that he brought defense, but him being a sophomore this year, I don’t think last year he would have scored 16 points in Rupp Arena. I don’t care what the situation was with injuries, whatever the case may be. If he stepped in that spot, that probably wouldn’t have happened a year ago. I think we can tip our hat for our development, but we also have to give him his flowers for being as dedicated and determined as he’s been since he’s been here.”

On if free throw shooting is a concern

“Not concerned. It’s the mentality of our program is in ‘hey, alright we have to get back to the drawing board.’ Get in the gym, work on them. I think anytime anybody has a showing like that. Uros (Plavsic) just got done working on his free throws, which we know that’s been an issue. Jahmai, the same thing. He’s going to make sure he’s going to get his free throw work in, as well as tomorrow before the game.”

On Mashack’s jump-shot improving

“It’s night and day. Over the summer, he had one of the best summers that I had seen. I think this is the second or third time I’ve said it, he had the biggest turnaround on development that I think I’ve ever seen as a young coach. He worked his butt off every day. Every single day. He constantly every day showed improvement at getting better at shooting the basketball and it was just good to see him have a game where he could kind of showcase that.”

On where he thinks the players are mentally after losing three of four

“I think it definitely is something that weighs on them a little bit. No different than any other guys at this point in the season. The thing with our guys is, it’s a blessing and a curse, they’re not the best losers. I’m an awful loser. I’ll be the first to admit that. They’re not great losers. They don’t handle it always the best way. They’re really mad. They’re really frustrated when we lose because they know how hard we work. They know the time that they put in and as much of a family as we are, we all expect to win. That’s just what it is. When we don’t, it does wear on us. It’s one of those things, we’re not going to just lay down and kind of put a damper on the season. We’re going to get up, get in the film room, talk about it, figure out what we need to do for the next game and go out and play our butts off.”

On Zakai Zeigler struggling with foul trouble, the balance between playing hard and playing smart

“With Z, it’s being smart. And watching film. It’s being critical of himself. I had a conversation with him last week, where I told him man, I think you have to mature from the standpoint of when you foul, don’t think it’s not you. Because at the end of the day, we have a different referee crew every game. And if they keep calling the same fouls, you’re probably fouling. Accept it and understand. Go in the film room, sit back and have the mentality of I have to get better at this. Because we need him on the floor. And his teammates told him in the locker room after the game like sometimes, man, you put us in a hole when you make those tough plays. We get that you’re just playing hard, but we need you on the floor.”

On Santiago Vescovi driving to score and not pass

“I think with Santi, he’s one of the most difficult guys in this league to guard. And that’s not from us, that’s from officials. He’s difficult to officiate. Because he creates angles, he understands how to run guys off screens. He’s great with his shot fake, he draws fouls. When he puts pressure on the rim, good things usually happen when he’s aggressive and looking to kick the entire time. Santi, obviously he’s our second leading assist guy so he does a good job distributing the basketball. But it’s times like the game the other night, he got aggressive and he opened up lanes to the rim. You see some of the drives guys backed off because they thought he was going to pass it. He just went ahead and took the layup. So I think for Santi it’s just one of those things where he just has to continue to have a better standard of taking what they’re giving you. If they’re giving you the rim, go ahead and take it.”

On how to take a roster of selfless players and make them more selfish when they need to be more aggressive

“You know what, we have great kids. Sometimes that’s the hardest thing to do, to make them selfish. Because they’re not that. They’re not like that. That’s the reason we move the ball well. We have high assist counts after games. They’re naturally guys that want to play as a team. So there are times and possessions where we need them to be ultra aggressive. And there are times where we’ve haven’t done it as much this year. But I think, again, in the film room, it’s just helping them understand when to take shots and when to take the next play.”

On how much they’re limited by not having Julian Phillips and Josiah-Jordan James, if they can switch one through five defensively without them

“Yeah, we still do, as far as the versatility they bring defensively. We can still switch. You can play Jahmai Mashack at the four and switch one through five still. But, you know, at the same time, Jahmai Mashack is 6-4, Julian Phillips is 6-8. Jahmai Mashack is 6-4 and Josiah James is 6-7, 215 pounds. It’s different. One thing that I think Kentucky was having success with is they have so much length when they put Cason Wallace at the point, versus Sahvir Wheeler, and that’s changed them. For us, we’ve always had that this entire year, but when you lose those big wings, it does change a little bit. I won’t say that makes us weaker or anything like that. Obviously it’s a different look that we’re not able to give when those two guys aren’t playing.”

On how to find consistency with this team at this point in the season 

“I mean, I’m 30 years old and I don’t know if I’m consistent every single day. I definitely try to, just as much as our guys. You guys see, they work really hard every day here at practice. They try to come in everyday with a workman-like mentality. But the reality is that you want to get them consistently doing the things that they do every day. I think it’s one of those things where you don’t want guys trying to do things that they don’t normally do every single day. Like Jahmai Mashack defends every day. We want him to come in and defend. Tobe Awaka rebounds every day. We want him to come in and rebound. I think that’s as simple as it is. It’s some guys that they do every single day for us, then we get to the game and maybe they didn’t do it as best they could, to their highest capability. I think that’s the point, where we get to this point in the season, we have to do that. To be good, in order to win, the guys that are great at something, they have to do that night in and night out. That’s the standard and it has to be reached.”

On if this team taking losses hard has had an impact in the extreme ups and downs from game to game

“I do. Like I said, we’ve got guys that don’t like losing in Uno, you know what I mean? Like, seriously. And you can look at it one of two ways. You could look like it like, ahh, sometimes you have to accept it and move on. A lot of guys can’t accept losing. They hate it. And sometimes it wears on them more than it should. We have guys on this team that — Olivier Nkamhoua, Josiah James — guys have had a losing record one time in their career here. One time. These guys around the country have been doing it for four years. So they accept it a little bit easier. Ours, they don’t always do the greatest job (handling losses). I think the frustrating thing with this year is that they know we could do better, but also again, they’re adjusting. Coach says it all the time: We are the game. We go into a lot of people’s gyms and we’re who they want. They circle the schedule. Like we’re going to play Texas A&M, they’re second in this league, but they’re on the bubble. They’re having a blackout (at the arena). They want us. We could help them get in the tournament. You know what I mean? So that’s been an adjustment for guys. I think it’s understanding that we can’t have lulls and not do what we do, especially early in games. Because when we come into the game, it’s not ahh let’s see what punch Tennessee is going to throw. They’re throwing the first one if we don’t. So that’s the mentality that we have to have going in there in these games. We have to come out with our best shot and understand that they’re giving us theirs.”

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