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Tennessee kicked off the rebirth of Thompson-Boling Arena with a convincing 106-46 men's basketball victory over Division II California (Pa.) Friday night.
The Vols recorded an exhibition-game record attendance of 19,780 playing in the refurbished 21-year-old arena, which underwent approximately $20 million worth of improvements since the end of last season.
The team's new additions showed well, too. Freshman Cameron Tatum, sophomore transfer Tyler Smith and Josh Tabb led the Vols with 15 points apiece. Senior JaJuan Smith had 13 and freshman Brian Williams and junior Ryan Childress scored 12 apiece while preseason SEC player of the year Chris Lofton scored 10.
"It's hard to be critical,'' said UT coach Bruce Pearl, whose team is ranked No. 7 in the The Associated Press and coaches' preseason polls. "What could you be critical of?''
Certainly not the ball rotation: The Vols had 28 assists leading to 38 field goals and seven players in double figures.
Tennessee's defensive improvement was evident from early on, as the Vols built a 55-20 halftime lead over the Vulcans by forcing 13 turnovers and limited the Division II school to 29-percent shooting.
California (Pa.), ranked No. 21 in a preseason poll by the Division II Bulletin, lost to Maryland by one point and Arkansas by seven in exhibition games last season.
"It's tough to gauge where you're at when the margin is so great,'' Pearl said. "But I thought our kids played hard. I don't think they let the quality of their play or their effort be affected by their opponent or the score.''
Tatum scored eight of his 13 first-half points in a span of 94 seconds. Tatum, a 6-foot-6 wing, sparked a 10-2 run by forcing a turnover and then splitting a pair of free throws that made it 34-14 with 5:20 left in the first half.
Williams hit a pair of free throws after Tatum forced another turnover, and then Tatum turned it up another notch with a glorious minute of basketball. Tatum scored on an alley-oop dunk, an inside move, blocked a shot and came back down to nail a 3-pointer from the corner to bring fans to their feet and make it 43-16 with 3:45 left in the half.
Pearl said he was impressed with both freshmen.
"It was a great debut for both of them,'' he said. "Cameron showed when the lights came on a level of athleticism we've seen, and he was fearless.
"Brian is a force in there. He actually can score better than he did around the basket. He has great hands. He took a charge, he stayed on the floor and used that physicality and he's an excellent passer.''
The Vols return to action at Thompson-Boling Arena Monday night with an exhibition game against Lincoln Memorial University that tips off at 7:30 p.m.