KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — Tennessee realizes it must learn to start games as well as it finishes them.
Josh Richardson scored 19 points Friday as the Volunteers continued their penchant for comebacks by erasing a six-point halftime deficit in a 61-58 victory over Tennessee Tech.
The Volunteers (5-4) have led at the half just once all season, but they've rallied from halftime deficits to beat Santa Clara, Butler and now Tennessee Tech. The Vols also beat Texas Southern after being tied at halftime.
"Getting into league play, we're going to be playing against great teams every night," Richardson said. "You can't have slow starts like that."
Richardson broke a 46-all tie and put Tennessee ahead for good by making one of two free throws with 7:10 left. Tennessee was clinging to a one-point lead after Tennessee Tech's Josiah Moore sank a 3-pointer with 2:15 left, but Armani Moore and Devon Baulkman made back-to-back three-point plays that gave the Vols breathing room.
Six days after squandering a 13-point lead in a 65-53 loss at Alabama, Tennessee Tech (6-5) again caused headaches for a Southeastern Conference program. The Golden Eagles went on a 9-0 run at the end of the first half to lead Tennessee 32-26 at the intermission.
Tennessee looked a little fatigued early as it played its third game in six days.
"It just seemed like we were going through the motions a little bit," Tennessee coach Donnie Tyndall said. "My teams usually don't do that. We certainly don't always play well and don't always play good, but we usually play pretty hard, and in the first half we didn't have that."
The Golden Eagles grabbed the early lead by capitalizing on surprising accuracy from 3-point range against Tennessee's matchup zone. Tennessee Tech entered the night shooting just 27.5 percent on 3-pointers, but went 5 of 8 from beyond the arc in the first half. Torrance Rowe made all four of his 3-point attempts in the first half and finished with a team-high 14 points, but he and his teammates cooled off as the game wore on. Tennessee Tech went 3 of 13 from 3-point range in the second half.
Tennessee Tech coach Steve Payne believed his team settled for too many jumpers in the second half rather than working the ball inside.
"Our team is not nearly as mature as we need to be," Payne said. "From a talent standpoint, I think we can play with a lot of people. From a maturity standpoint, we've got a long way to go."
Tennessee Tech: At least one Tennessee Tech player has posted a double-double in each of the Golden Eagles' first 11 games. Charles Jackson recorded his ninth double-double Friday with 13 points and 10 rebounds.
Tennessee: The Vols own a 22-1 lead in their series with Tennessee Tech. The Vols' lone loss was a 73-62 decision on Dec. 4, 1996.
Tennessee coach Donnie Tyndall said that forward Jabari McGhee has undergone surgery and will miss at least six to eight weeks. McGhee injured his right foot Wednesday in an 83-72 loss at North Carolina State.
QUOTE OF THE NIGHT
"I tried to tell them coming into this game that you were going to play some guys that were some tough hombres," Tennessee Tech coach Steve Payne said. "There's no other way to put it. They were going to be tough. They were going to box out like it's 1962. They're going to be physical. You're going to have to earn every shot. If we can have that mentality a little better like they do, we'll be a tough out for anybody."
Tennessee Tech: At Missouri-Kansas City on Monday.
Tennessee: Hosts Mercer on Monday.