KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee's inability to hang on to the ball is causing its preseason goals to slip out of its grasp.

The Volunteers have dropped five of their last six games and have produced more turnovers than assists in six of their last eight contests. The Vols (9-8, 1-4 Southeastern Conference) will try to stop both trends Saturday when they host Alabama (12-6, 4-1).

Tennessee committed a season-high 21 turnovers Thursday while blowing a seven-point halftime lead in a 62-56 loss at No. 23 Mississippi.

"Twenty-one is too tough," Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin said. "Our goal is as a team to have 10 or less, when you talk about turnovers. ... Twenty-one is too many."

The performance against Mississippi continued a recent pattern for the Vols.

When they take care of the ball, they win. When they waste possessions with turnovers, they lose.

During their current 1-5 slump, the Vols have a combined 49 assists and 71 turnovers in their five losses. They've been outscored 77-48 in points off turnovers in those losses.

Their one win during that stretch was a 72-57 victory over Mississippi State. They had 19 assists and 11 turnovers in that game while outscoring the Bulldogs 18-4 in points off turnovers.

"We've just got to do better at the end of the game," junior guard Jordan McRae said. "It's definitely a difference. We turn the ball over and then we're not getting stops on the other end. It hurts us."

Tennessee doesn't have a pure point guard on scholarship. Junior Trae Golden, more of a natural shooting guard, was the Vols' main point guard before falling out of the starting lineup Jan. 12 against Alabama. Golden's move out of the starting lineup hasn't significantly altered his playing time.

Although McRae now is considered the starting point guard, he's much more of a scorer than a distributor. McRae scored 26 points Thursday against Mississippi, but he also had nine turnovers and only one assist.

McRae averages 21.6 points per game in SEC competition, but he also has 20 turnovers and nine assists against conference foes.

Tennessee had just nine assists to go along with its 21 turnovers against Mississippi. Turnovers also proved costly in the Vols' first game with Alabama, as they got too careless with the ball down the stretch in a 68-65 loss at Tuscaloosa.

"They throw about two different presses at you over the course of a game," McRae said of Alabama. "Without those turnovers at Alabama down the stretch, we would have won that game."

The Vols must turn things around soon before the season gets away from them.

Tennessee's players spoke confidently before the season about earning the NCAA tournament bid that eluded them last year. Now the Vols are tied for last place in the SEC and one loss away from falling to .500 overall.

Before the season, the Vols didn't know they'd be without senior forward Jeronne Maymon, who is redshirting this year with an injured left knee.

Maymon led the SEC last year with 184 regular-season free-throw attempts. Without Maymon on the floor, the Vols have been outscored from the foul line in six consecutive games.

The absence of Maymon has played a major role in the Vols' struggles while putting more pressure on the backcourt to deliver.

McRae has responded by developing into one of the SEC's top scorers in conference play, but the Vols still must protect the basketball better. Turnovers have proved particularly costly on the road, as the Vols haven't won on an opponent's home floor all season.

"When you look at the last three road games — Alabama, Kentucky and Ole Miss — (there were) key turnovers, missed free throws and also (not) getting key stops in situations," Martin said. "The last two or three minutes of a game, finish the game out."

Perhaps the friendly home environment Saturday will prevent the Vols from repeating the mistakes that doomed them at Tuscaloosa.

Tennessee lost four of its first five conference games last year and recovered to finish 10-6 and tie for second in the league standings, so the Vols know they can still bounce back. But they've made things much tougher on themselves with this slow start.

"We've been through adversity before," senior forward Kenny Hall said. "This is not the first time. It's just another thing we'll have to get through. There's still a lot of basketball to be played."