Wichita State has been searching for answers to solve its first-half woes, something it might want to do quickly with a hungry Tennessee team looking to make a statement.
The 12th-ranked Shockers will try to start strong and improve to 10-0 for the first time Saturday when they host the Volunteers, who hope to end Wichita State's run for the second year in a row.
The Shockers stumbled to another poor start last Saturday, trailing by eight points at halftime before storming back for a 71-58 win over visiting Oral Roberts.
After missing 21 of 27 from the field before intermission, they hit nine of their first 12 shots in the second half.
''We really took the ball screens more aggressively in the second half,'' coach Gregg Marshall said. ''Our roll guys were rolling to score, not just a rolling for a stroll in the park. And we got out in transition. That's when this team is at its best.''
Still, Marshall's squad shot 40.6 percent for its second-lowest mark of the season. The early struggles have become a troubling trend for the Shockers, who have trailed after 20 minutes in three consecutive games and ended the first half with a deficit or tied in six of seven.
''We've been trying to figure out what's going on,'' said forward Cleanthony Early, who had a team-high 16 points. ''I guess we have that 'X' on our back now, and teams come out with so much energy.''
Tennessee (6-2) has carried a lead into the second half in all three games during its winning streak, though it only led by one point before cruising to an 84-63 victory over visiting Tennessee Tech last Saturday.
The Volunteers have won three of their last four against ranked opponents, including a 69-60 victory over No. 23 Wichita State in Knoxville on Dec. 13, 2012.
After spoiling the Shockers' 9-0 start, Tennessee is hoping to do it again with Wichita State just one win away from the best start in program history.
''First and foremost, you beat a talented team, that's what it says more than anything,'' coach Cuonzo Martin said. ''Because everything's based on RPI and that sort of thing, it would be a good win.''
This matchup, however, will take place in Wichita's INTRUST Bank Arena, a downtown venue that seats nearly 5,000 more than the Shockers' usual home court. Martin has taken steps to make sure his team is prepared for the boisterous crowd by blaring Wichita State's fight song at full volume at practice this week.
He's also expecting a fierce battle on the boards, where Tennessee is tied for 10th nationally with a plus-10.1 margin and Wichita State is tied for 24th at plus-8.1.
Tennessee junior Jarnell Stokes, pulling down a team-high 10.0 rebounds per game, has averaged 18.3 points and 11.8 boards during a streak of four straight double-doubles.
Senior Jordan McRae leads the Volunteers with 18.8 points per game, and he scored 17 against the Shockers in last season's meeting.
After averaging 21.8 points on 57.8 shooting in his previous four games, Wichita State leading scorer Ron Baker will try to regroup following a nine-point effort on 2-of-8 shooting against the Golden Eagles.
"There's no doubt in my mind he'll play at the next level," Martin said.
Wichita State has won two of three all-time meetings.
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