LAKE BUENA VISTA. Fla. — Tennessee’s Tyler Smith wanted to give thanks following the Vols’ 78-64 win over Siena on Thursday afternoon.
“My teammates ... and the fans were amazing,’’ Smith said. “Today was just what we needed.’’
Tennessee, 4-0 and ranked 12th, plays Georgetown at 1 p.m. today (TV: ESPN) at The Milk House at Disney’s Wide World of Sports Complex in the semifinals of the Old Spice Classic.
The 21st-ranked Hoyas (3-0) defeated Wichita State 58-50 in the second game Thursday.
Smith said the throng of orange-clad fans who made up roughly half of the 3,000 in attendance inspired the Vols to play with greater effort against the Saints (2-1).
The UT fans had plenty of opportunities to cheer for junior Wayne Chism, who was named the Old Spice player of the game with a team-high 15 points while sharing team honors for rebounds (six) and assists (three).
Smith scored UT’s first six points before leaving the game for the rest of the first half with his second foul at the 13:27 mark and the Vols up 13-11.
“Tyler came out and kind of had his head down,’’ Chism said, “And I said, ‘Tyler, I got your back.’ He had my back plenty of times last year when I got into foul trouble.’’
Tennessee didn’t miss a beat without Smith, the preseason SEC player of the year.
Freshman Scotty Hopson hit a 3-pointer at the 10:01 mark to spark an 18-0 run that Cameron Tatum capped with a reverse layup off J.P. Prince’s steal to make the score 35-15 at the 6:19 mark.
Freshman Renaldo Woolridge hit a pair of 3-pointers during the run en route to his 14 point, six-rebound performance.
The Vols took a 47-27 lead into intermission, but the experienced Saints weren’t finished.
Siena opened the second half on a 10-0 run, and cut the lead to nine points at 50-41 on Edwin Ubiles’ free throw with 13:29 left to play.
“I think we lost our focus,’’ Chism said. “On offense, we were rushing ourselves.’’
After a Tatum free throw, Chism helped his teammates re-focus by hitting his first 3-pointer of the season — after going 0-for-8 the first three games — to give the Vols a 54-41 lead.
“It was kind of like a dagger shot,” said Kenny Hasbrouck, Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference preseason player of the year. “They are a very athletic team and they bring a lot of defensive intensity.”
Hasbrouck found out first hand. UT held him to six points on 1-of-10 shooting, and forced him into five turnovers.
Siena’s Alex Franklin, who scored a game-high 17 points, hit a free throw to cut the lead to 54-42, but that was as close as they would get.
UT’s final run, a 9-0 burst, took any doubt out of the outcome. Prince hit two free throws and scored on a three-point play, and Chism hit both ends of a 1-and-1 free throw situation and scored in close to give the Vols their largest lead at 63-42 with 8:45 left.
Siena, the preseason MAAC favorites, drew no closer than 14 the rest of the game.
“Offensively, we did the things we needed to do in the paint, as Wayne was big and Brian (Williams) was big,” UT coach Bruce Pearl said. “Defensively, building a wall and rotating was a key. We wanted to make them beat us from the outside.”
The Saints hit 1-of-15 3-pointers while the Vols made 6-of-14.