Rebounding up, turnovers down, mission accomplished.
Tennessee basketball coach Bruce Pearl came into Wednesday night’s exhibition game against Division II Lincoln Memorial University looking for improvement in those two specific areas, and he got it.
The Vols scored a 97-58 victory over the Railsplitters before an announced crowd of 17,924 at Thompson-Boling Arena.
Tennessee forced LMU into 30 turnovers while committing 17 itself and outrebounded the Railsplitters 48-34.
“We were better defensively, we rebounded better, and we handled the ball better and forced them into 30 turnovers,’’ said Pearl, whose team committed 26 turnovers in last Friday night’s exhibition win while forcing North Alabama into 28. “I would have liked to have shot the ball better; early on we settled for some shots ... instead of getting great shots.’’
Sophomore Scotty Hopson led UT in scoring for the second consecutive night, getting 20 points on 7-of-9 shooting. Hopson connected on 2 of 3 shots beyond the 3-point arc, and soared high on more than one occasion for crowd-pleasing dunks.
“The guys are encouraging me and expecting me to be more of a playmaker,’’ said Hopson, who averaged 20 points in the exhibitions with a scorching .789 shooting percentage from the floor, including 6 of 8 beyond the 3-point line. “My overall aggression has stepped up.’’
Freshman walk-on Skylar McBee, a graduate of Grainger High School, has proven a capable backup for Hopson at shooting guard. McBee scored nine points (3-of-7 shooting beyond the arc) and pulled down four rebounds in 19 minutes.
“I think Skylar continues to be a steady performer,’’ Pearl said. “In addition to making threes, he defends, he rebounds his position, and he’s a real threat out there.’’
Tyler Smith and Wayne Chism scored 11 points apiece, with Chism also leading the Vols with eight rebounds.
Pearl changed the lineup Wednesday, starting junior college transfer Melvin Goins at point guard and Cameron Tatum at small forward.
“ Melvin put a lot of effort in defensively and really showed what he could do defensively,’’ Pearl said. “You’ve got to remember he’s just a few weeks out from (arthroscopic knee) surgery.’’
Freshman center Kenny Hall also had an impact, scoring nine points and pulling down five rebounds in 11 minutes.
“You’ve got to be happy with all three of those (newcomers) being factors and contributing,’’ Pearl said, referring to Goins, McBee and Hall.
Pearl said in the days leading up to the exhibition games that he felt Tatum deserved a start in the preseason on account of the hard work he has put in over the offseason and fall camp.
“J.P. came to me before the game and said, ‘let Cam start in my place,’ ” Pearl said. “But J.P. has also played very productively.’’
Prince was only 1-of-3 shooting from the floor, but he made 6 of 8 free throws, dished out three assists with no turnovers and recorded a team-high four steals.
D’Mario Curry led LMU with 24 points on 7-of-10 shooting (9 of 12 from the free throw line) and grabbed a team-high eight rebounds.
The Railsplitters hung tight with the Vols through the first five minutes, but UT’s continuous substitutions and swarming press eventually wore them down.
Pearl said the Vols will return to the court today for “two hard days” and advance scouting on future opponents.
“Then next week it will be all Austin Peay,’’ Pearl said.
The Vols open the season against the Governors at 9 p.m. on Nov. 13 at Thompson-Boling Arena.