Strange: Pearl seeks 40 minutes, spent tank

Mike Strange

You could say Tennessee should have won by a bigger margin than 78-66 Wednesday night.

You could say Tennessee shouldn't have let East Tennessee State hang around and hang around.

You could say the Vols should have outrebounded the smaller Bucs by more than 34-32, or that ETSU shouldn't have gotten put-back scores on three consecutive possessions in the second half.

You could say Tennessee clanked too many free throws to beat Kentucky or Memphis in a tight game.

You could say it's a good thing Justin Tubbs (22 points) transferred from Alabama to ETSU so the Vols won't have to guard him in SEC games every year.

You could say Wayne Chism ought not to have wandered into foul-trouble distraction again, that he should have scored more than six points against a team at a size disadvantage in the paint.

Finally, you could say this wasn't a committed wire-to-wire effort by an 11th-ranked team.

In fact, Bruce Pearl did, after looking around the post-game locker room and not seeing much exhaustion evident.

"I think we had more to give,'' said Pearl.

You could say all of that, but you could never accuse the Vols of being selfish.

Tennessee recorded 28 field goals in the win over ETSU. And 22 of them were the result of an assist from a teammate.

That's a percentage you take to the bank.

Of UT's first nine field goals, eight of them came on an assist. And it never really stopped all night.

"Playing on this team, in this offense,'' said senior Bobby Maze, "you never know who can lead us in scoring.

"I think this team is doing a great job of getting everybody involved. Nobody is really pouting about who's taking what shot.''

Maze had five assists, not unusual for a point guard. That's his job.

Melvin Goins and J.P. Prince had four apiece. So did Tyler Smith. Scotty Hopson had three.

UT's first possession: Smith penetrates and fires to Hopson, who nails a 3-pointer.

Next trip, Smith lobs to Tatum for a running dunk.

The second half started with a Maze lob for a Tatum dunk.

Three times somebody found freshman Skylar McBee open on the perimeter. Three times McBee drained the shot.

Pearl applauds his team playing unselfishly. But this night, he was looking at a bigger picture and saw a glass half empty.

"It's great to share the ball, make the extra pass,'' he said, "but they (ETSU) had 24 baskets on eight assists.

"Which means that 16 times, they made a one-on-one play. We need a little more of that to help our offense.''

Tennessee had one-on-one opportunities. The problem was finishing.

Hopson was 4-of-14, Maze 2-of-8. Those are two guys who need to be able to penetrate and finish.

But the bottom line was a win against a scrappy team, a team that had won at Arkansas last week. A team that took No. 1 seed Pittsburgh down to the final minutes last March in a first-round NCAA tournament game.

Maybe that's as good as you can hope for in this weird window of the season.

The adrenaline of opening night is long gone. The big trip to the Virgin Islands is a memory.

Memphis and Kansas are nearly a month away yet. College of Charleston doesn't generate the same buzz.

Throw in Thanksgiving and end-of-semester cramming with final exams looming.

"You hit the nail on the head,'' Pearl said. "We haven't committed to 40 minutes of intense play.

"I told the seniors, 'it's not my job to coach the effort.' We've got great leaders. I asked them to help me a little more.''

Middle Tennessee State and Wyoming are up next.

Hey, guys, sounds like your coach needs an assist.

Mike Strange may be reached at strangem@knoxnews.com.

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Comments » 6

teedub writes:

Good call, Strange! I'm hoping the intensity will pick up and keep pace with the schedule over the next several weeks. Maybe that lack of intensity is all that's keeping the Vols from looking like the Top 10 team we are all hoping for.

Govolsps writes:

The three point shooting needs to get back on track. I think Scotty was 2 for 8 and Bobby was 0 for 4. If we hit a few more threes the way we're supposed to then we would have a better feeling after the game is over.

Virgil_Tutwiler writes:

I think most forget that ETSU is a good ballclub. They already have 1 SEC victory and played well in 2009 postseason.

This was not UNCA

johnlg00 writes:

Maybe the guys are tired from studying for finals (lol!) or else CBP is still practicing them too hard. In any case, I don't see how there is any excuse for any player on the floor not to go as hard as he can every minute he is in the game. Nobody plays more than about 25 minutes a game anyway. If they were running a true "40 minutes of hell" system with fewer than eight players, that would be one thing; as it is, there just seems to be too much standing around, especially on offense.

hdav06#387651 writes:

I follow both UT and ETSU closely. Comes from growing up in Oak Ridge and living in the Tri Cities I guess. ETSU is good, but not even picked to win their conference. Coach BP is right. The Vols need to kick it up a notch. I did enjoy the game though.

Boll_WeeVol writes:

"Which means that 16 times, they made a one-on-one play. We need a little more of that to help our offense.''

What? That's all our half court offense seemed to be against Purdue. I didn't get to watch the game but I was all excited when I saw 28 buckets on 22 assists, and Maze had 5 assists. I thought maybe we were turning into a club with a purpose on the offensive side of the ball. However, it seems all I read about is how CBP (who I'm a fan of) wants to see more one-on-one offense and more shots from our PGs. Why?

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