Vols shake off sluggishness, crush MTSU

Curing Orange blues

Tyler Smith dunks against MTSU during the second half of the game.

Photo by Saul Young

Tyler Smith dunks against MTSU during the second half of the game.

Tennessee senior JaJuan Smith said he could feel something special was about to happen before the game, and so could his teammates.

Brimming with pent-up anger and embarrassment from Friday's lackluster 89-75 win over Prairie View A&M, the Vols took their frustrations out on Middle Tennessee State.

The result was a 109-40 victory over the Blue Raiders before a crowd of 18,592 at Thompson-Boling Arena on Tuesday night. It was the second largest margin of victory in UT men's basketball history behind a 79-point win scored against Mexico in 1966.

"I asked our coaches before the game, 'Are we nervous, or just really, really focused, because they are quiet tonight,'" said UT coach Bruce Pearl, whose seventh-ranked team improved to 4-0. "It was unfortunate for Middle (Tennessee State) that we had played so uninspired against Prairie View."

It didn't help the Blue Raiders (1-3) that JaJuan Smith was hitting most every shot in sight from the time he came out of the tunnel for warm-ups.

"I was feeling it in the shoot-around, and my teammates saw that and told me I was going to have a big night," said JaJuan Smith, who scored 32 points on 11-of-15 shooting to eclipse his previous career-high of 26 points.

In fact, when JaJuan left the game for good with 9:50 remaining, he had outscored MTSU all by himself: the score was 88-28 in favor of the Vols.

"We've been mad and angry at ourselves because of the way we played the other night," JaJuan Smith said. "So we were itching to get back on the floor to prove ourselves."

The Summitt floor proved to be quite a proving ground, as UT senior All-American Chris Lofton re-established his 3-point touch and Ramar Smith broke out of his free-throw slump.

Lofton, who entered the night 3-of-17 beyond the 3-point arc this season, scored 17 points by hitting 6-of-9 shots from the floor and 5-of-8 of his 3-point attempts.

"I got a good open look at the beginning and I was happy to make the first one," said Lofton, who hit a 3-pointer less than two minutes into the game as the Vols raced to a 13-0 lead. "Yeah, it felt good tonight."

Ramar Smith couldn't contain his happiness after sinking the first two free throws he attempted with 5:06 left in the first half. The Vols' new $3 million scoreboard showed Ramar flashing a million-dollar smile after pointing up into the stands, having put his 0-for-12 free-throw performance against Prairie View behind him.

"The crowd was behind me, and I had to acknowledge the fans for that," Ramar Smith said. "I went back to doing it (free throw shooting) the old way. I had started trying that other style in Europe."

On this night it wouldn't have mattered what corner of the Earth Tennessee was playing basketball on; the Vols intensity and effort was evident from start to finish.

"At this point of the season, that's about as good as you can expect," said Pearl, who scored his 50th career win as UT's head coach. "I feel badly about the margin. We didn't press much. We just played really good drop-back defense. To force 29 turnovers made it hard for them to run their offense."

MTSU coach Kermit Davis knows there are plenty of UT opponents ahead who will have to deal with the same sort of thing.

"JaJuan Smith and Chris Lofton, who I think is the best backcourt in college basketball, played like it tonight," said Davis, whose team lost 83-52 to UT last season. "That's a national championship contending team when they shoot like that.''

The Vols hit 37-of-57 (64.9 percent) from the floor, 16-of-28 beyond the 3-point arc (57.1 percent) and 19-of-28 (67.9 percent) from the free-throw line.

UT freshman center Brian Williams didn't play because of a hip pointer suffered in Sunday's practice.

"Hopefully, we can get him back for Friday,'' said Pearl, whose team tips off against West Virginia in the Legends Classic at 9 p.m. Friday at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J.

The Vols will play Texas or New Mexico State at 4:30 p.m. or 7 p.m. Saturday night to complete the tournament.

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Comments » 34

1974Vol writes:

It just makes you wonder how good this team can be. MTSU is no Duke, but they're no Praire View either.

amyslins writes:

now see...that is the solid team effort that we have been waiting on. glad to see everyone play as well as they did. GO VOLS!!!

Timed_vol (Inactive) writes:

what is wrong with williams knee??

imw8n4u writes:

trailed by as many as 71 - holy macaroni!!! I don't care who you're playing - that is a beat down.

scvolalum writes:

'Can't wait for the REAL season to start. SI's going off on FL-------as if they're going to reeepeet. Not a chance! I'm driving up from SC to see 'em abuse Donovan's Dorks. Isn't the depth just awesome? It's great that Lofton's regaining his groove, too. 'Just too excitin'!

chefjorge writes:

I mean that's kind of like the disparity in some womens' games. CL draining threes. How 'bout Ramar at 6 for 7 from the charity stripe too. Like it...like it a lot.

bshell12 writes:

Give Jajuan some props guys he is always the forgotten man and the emotional leader as well as tone setter.

Orangefever writes:

we could have beaten anybody tonight! how about the shooting! and jajuan! BINGO! The Perfect Game!

chrisw2967 writes:

I dont think there is 2 better guards in the country than we have in Lofton and J. Smith.
I am just glad Lofton is starting to find his shot again.
I know that was MTSU but that was just murder.
Ramar finally woke up with his free throws.

nickperkinsalc#627224 writes:

JaJuan Smith is going to get a lot of national attention before the season is up.....Jordan Howell played a nice floor game......Big game for the confidence of Lofton......TN is going to be tough to beat when everything is clicking...

calivol writes:

Wait, where are all the panicky posters after this one? Anybody throwing out unproven accusations of selfishness and team disunity tonight? Anybody worried about all the talent not meshing and season already being in jeopardy? Hmmm, no? Didn't think so. Now is this team perfect? No. Did this one victory prove much of anything? Probably not. Will our Vols have bumps along the way? Can't imagine they won't. And should we worry out loud if some of the tendencies that cropped up in the Prairie View game rear their ugly head down the stretch in February? Absolutely. But this, ladies and gentlemen, is exactly why you don't panic on NOVEMBER 16th. It was dumb then, and it looks even dumber now.

OldNumber7 writes:

Yikes

lnbadger320 writes:

that was a great game, jujuan played great D. i knew lofton would come around. once we start playing tougher opponents, you'll see lofton get the ball more. tyler smith is going to be a heck of a ball player. this team is so unselfish, i'm proud of their play.

GreerVol22 writes:

Its amazing how Pearl and staff have the ability to inject their on personal intensity and desire to win directly into the soul of these young guys. The fact that these guys take it personally and challenge themselves to perform beyond what the coach expects is really unique. Fantastic focus and effort from everyone on the team.

bustervols writes:

How bout that Earl Pearl?

utvolz#637682 writes:

Great win Vols, but I'd still like to see better than 68% from the charity stripe though.

Go get after em' in Jersey!

bigcanesfan73 writes:

great game,keep playing like that and you will be hanging a national championship banner up.GO VOLS!!!!!!!!!!

GoVol writes:

68% from the line will not cut it against quality opponents. If this continues it will jump up and bite us at some point. You cannot expect to blow out every team, thus the poor free throw shooting becomes a non-factor. However, we'll be in some very tight games and the poor free throw shooting will cost us. They need to really focus on this in practice. Just wait!

bleed_orange writes:

Now that's more like the TN team that we are looking for! They still got room to improve - of course it's not even December yet. You don't want them to peak until March. I would also like to see 70-75% from the free throw line. I thought Chris might have a good game before we play West VA. Jajuan was on fire! Jordan and Ramar played great at the PG position. Duke played pretty good. Tyler is looking better ever game. Wayne and Josh were OK. Ryan is still Mr. Fireball. How bad is Brian hurt? WVA will be a better test, but I think TN will be ready. I know Huggins likes to play the same style as Pearl. This will be interesting. However, if Chris & Jajuan are playing this good-the BIG ORANGE will be very hard to beat. I thought TN played great half court defense and were taking better shots. Look out WV and TX or NMst. GO VOLS!
JDS

jweaver3#395614 writes:

mparker a hip pointer is not in your knee!!!
the key word is hip
GREAT WIN
Ready to see us play Memphis or another quality opponent to see where we stack up;
GO VOLS
TXVOLSFAN

bleed_orange writes:

Now of course it would be nice to shoot free throws like the Boston Celtics of 1986 (about 80%), but that is not realistic. Against teams like MTSU they can shoot 50-60%, against SEC they need to shoot between 65-75% and in the NCAA tournament it would be nice to shoot 75-85%. If they shoot at least 70% they should have a chance to win. They need to also shoot 33%+ 3point shooting and 45-55% from the field, create 15-30 TO and only turning over 0-14 and RB about the same as the opponent - they will win alot more then they lose (could win 30). GO VOLS!
JDS

KnoxVol_in_TX writes:

Amazing! What a performance. However, I would like to say one thing:

I am not a fan of S. Pearl. I dont know if I am uncomfortable with the conflict of interest thing, or what. But I do not think his presence adds to the strength of the ball club.

He just seems aloof, and it showed last nite. He was noticeably out of sync with the other guys on the floor.

DSaVol writes:

I am soooo pi$$ed at this team!! If they'd learn to make free throws they could have won by 75!!! Unbelieveable that 7 guys went to the line and each missed at least 1!! blah, blah, blah.... Like I've said before, defense wins championships and last was the best half court D I've seen since BP arrived. Also interesting that the rotation appears to be taking a little more shape with Duke again 1st off the bench, a few fewer minutes for Tabb, Childress and what appeared to be somewhat longer stints with the main guys. JHowell gives us much better ball distribution at the point and Ramar gives us a lot more spark than JH off the bench, wouldn't mind seeing that stay that way.

bleed...those are some really insightful numbers there however, I think we've already won a lot more than we've lost the last couple years.

knoxvol...get over it. Do you really believe you'll see young Mr. Pearl in the first half of most games???? And "aloof" is not a term you'd choose if you knew anything about him.

The real season starts Friday night and no better way to get rollin than to kick old Huggy Bear's cheating a$$ all the way back to the hills of West-by God-Virginia!

ZacharyUTK writes:

We are going to beat a whole lot of people this season. ARE YOU WATCHING THIS - KENTUCKY, FLORIDA, OHIO STATE?

volntx writes:

They shot the ball great but I think their defensive effort was even better. Of course we need to score but D will carry you when the shots don't fall.

iowavol writes:

Real happy for Ramar getting the FT issue behind him. I was very impressed with his first (much to the contrary of the author of this article) on the three pt play, but the shot he made to get there was absolutely awesome. Some great athleticism around the basket. Would love to see Chism and Crews go to the hole with more authority. Chism attempted one shot from 4 inches that he missed by two feet trying to bank it. Why? Dunk it or finger roll it from 4".

hoskinsfive#468391 writes:

When we play like this nobody can beat us.

tlc429#392720 writes:

I'm so happy to see all these vol fans from different states. I'm an East TN bred Nashvillian who will always claim ET as home. Now, who is S. Pearl? I know a Bruce Pearl that we sometimes call "Earl" but S? I don't care if the vols are playing underwater basketweaving, as long as they win! Football, basketball, softball....GO VOLS!

amyslins writes:

DSaVol...your dumb! your pissed about us not winning by 75? i am so sorry that you ego took a hit after last night's game. i mean, i thought that a 69 point win would be good enough for most people. but no you need 75. this is not football, you will not move up more spots by how much you destroy teams.

but we do work on our foul shooting. it was better last night but of course that can always improve. look forward to winning the legends classic this weekend!

Chainsaw writes:

Like clubbing baby seals. Wait...like clubbing blind baby seals.

bleed_orange writes:

I don't think you have to worry to much about seeing Steven play too many minutes. He will be about 8th,9th or 10th player off the bench. Barring some injuries and alot of foul trouble he will not see more than 5 minutes a game unless we are way ahead. GO VOLS!
JDS

POTSVol (Inactive) writes:

TLC429, S Pearl is Steven Pearl, Bruce's SON. He redshirted last season. He'll be a fan favorite at least by the student section's reactions. Anytime the coach's son plays on his team adds extra excitement from crowds usually. I can see him eventually fill Dane's shoes in another year or two. Give him time. It's not like he's never known Bruce's style of play. He knows what his father expects and Bruce knows vice versa.

Besides, you'd think the general public would have known that his eldest son was on the team at some point in the three years he's been here. Just in case you didn't know he's eldest daughter, out of four kids, sings the national anthem at home games on occasion and is quite good. The family definitely takes after Bruce.

DSaVol writes:

amyslime: Are you serious??? LMAO!!! You actually read that post and believed it and want to call ME dumb????? You are obviously another uninformed moron! Just STFU!!! Oh, sorry, that means SHUT THE F*** UP!!! Just FYI (means for your information dumb one) I was being sarcastic toward all of the posting that has gone on here about missed free throws. Sorry, you'll have to look up sarcastic on your own. On second thought just go back to the football stories where your level of intellect is more at home.

volfan1511 writes:

Howell needs to be in the game more with the first team because too many athletes and scorers on the court and Jordan will get them the touches and make the extra pass that Ramar might not. Ramar i think would be the star or the 2nd team and thats the role i think hes better at is being the best player on the court. He doesnt always have to make that extra pass when hes playing with Chilly, Tabb,Duke and others. I think this move could help team chemistry alot

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