Vols' Moore finds ways to contribute amid scoring slump
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Tennessee coach Rick Barnes believes forward Armani Moore is versatile enough to make a major difference without ever putting the ball in the basket.
Moore's recent performances are putting that theory to the test.
The 6-foot-4 senior entered Southeastern Conference play averaging 15 points per game, but he has just 6 points per game in league competition. Moore has shot 26.8 percent in six SEC games - he missed one SEC game with an ankle injury - after making 42.8 percent of his field-goal attempts in nonconference play.
''For any player, once you see your numbers decrease in one area, it can be frustrating,'' Moore said. ''But once I actually sat down with myself, (I) realized even though I'm not scoring, I can always be effective in other areas.''
That's just what he's done.
Moore has played every position on the floor for Tennessee (10-9, 3-4 SEC) at one time or another. He has found ways to remain productive even as his scoring totals have plunged.
He ranks eighth in the SEC in rebounding (7.8) and second in blocks (1.9) heading into Tuesday's game at Alabama (10-8, 1-5). Moore's 6-4 frame makes him the shortest player to rank in the top 10 in either category. He also has a team-high 3.8 assists per game.
''I think he can become one of the best defensive players in the country,'' Barnes said. ''If he looks in to do that, I think he's got a great future with that because he's competitive. He's not afraid of a challenge. I think he can guard anybody on the floor.''
Moore also was providing plenty of offense earlier.
He averaged 10.3 points per game in 2014-15 and entered this season as Tennessee's top returning scorer. Moore scored in double figures in nine of Tennessee's first 11 games, including a career-high 29 points against Army.
That scoring has disappeared this month.
Moore has exceeded six points in just two SEC games. He has missed all nine of his 3-point attempts in SEC play after shooting 11 of 25 from beyond the arc in nonconference games.
As he grew disappointed with his diminished scoring, Moore had some conversations with Barnes that gave him a new perspective.
''Now I've actually come in and been a whole lot more effective in other areas than scoring,'' Moore said.
For instance, Moore had only four points but a career-high five steals Saturday in a 78-69 victory over South Carolina, which was ranked 24th at the time. He had five blocks, five assists and six rebounds to go along with six points in a loss to No. 5 Texas A&M, ranked 21st at the time. He had seven rebounds, six assists, four steals, three blocks and just one point in a triumph over Florida.
Even as Moore's scoring has dipped, Tennessee is still averaging a league-high 78.9 points per game in conference play. But the Vols also are allowing 79.6 points per game in league play, the most of any SEC team.
The Vols need Moore to lead their defense while also handling the ball more as opponents concentrate on slowing down Kevin Punter Jr., whose 23.3 points per game rank second in the SEC. Any scoring Moore can provide is a nice bonus.
''Armani can impact a team without ever scoring a point,'' Barnes said, ''in big ways.''
This story has been corrected in the fourth paragraph from the bottom to show that Moore had six assists - not seven - against Florida.