Bruce Pearl’s 100th victory as Tennessee’s basketball coach was one for the record books Tuesday night.
The 10th-ranked Vols set school marks for most points scored and assists (34) in their 124-49 victory over UNC Asheville at Thompson-Boling Arena.
“We set some records offensively,’’ Pearl said. “But really, it was all about our defense. Our first-half defensive effort was as good as we’ve seen in a while.’’
Tennessee (2-0) raced out to a 66-14 halftime lead with pin-point shooting and smothering defense, much to the delight of the 17,085 in attendance.
The Bulldogs (0-2), picked to finish second in the Big South, didn’t make a basket until the 3:09 mark of the first half. Terrence Turner’s shot in the lane made it 57-10 after UNC Asheville missed its first 19 attempts from the field.
Scotty Hopson led six Vols in double figures with a career-high 25 points on 8-of-11 shooting, including 6 of 7 beyond the 3-point arc. Bobby Maze had 14 points, Cam Tatum 13 and Renaldo Woolridge, Wayne Chism and Melvin Goins scored 11 apiece.
“We knew it was going to be Coach’s 100th, and we wanted to make a statement,’’ said UT senior captain Tyler Smith, who along with teammates took part in a post-game ceremony that saw Pearl honored with a jersey with the number 100 on the back.
The Vols’ intentions were evident from the opening tip; Hopson hit a trey on the first possession, and UT made 24 of 37 shots in the first half, including 8 of 13 beyond the 3-point arc.
It was a preview of things to come; UT shot 59.7 percent from the floor for the game and 55.2 percent beyond the 3-point arc.
The Vols led by as many as 83 points, flirting with the school record for largest margin of victory (79, vs. Mexico in 1966) when Michael Hubert hit a 3-pointer with 1:30 left to make it 124-41.
UNC Asheville, led by J.P. Primm’s 13 points, closed the game on an 8-0 run.
The 75-point margin ranks as the second largest in school history and biggest in Pearl’s five years at UT, surpassing the 109-40 win over Middle Tennessee State in 2007.
“We want to build on this,’’ Pearl said. “I like the chemistry and the way they’re sharing the ball. They can see what they’re capable of doing.’’
The Vols forced 16 turnovers in the first half, the majority before Pearl called off the press at the 7½-minute mark.
“We made some really good reads, and we’re getting more intelligent in it,’’ Pearl said. “We had coverage, but we also made plays out of it. We rotated, and the guys were instinctive, jumping passing lanes, and their offense couldn’t anticipate.’’
Pearl was pleased with the Vols play at point guard, too. Maze had 14 points, seven assists and one turnover, and Goins had five assists, no turnovers, and five steals.
“It all started tonight with our defense, and that’s going to be the key to this team,’’ Maze said. “But if we continue to play like this, we can beat the best teams on our schedule.’’
The Vols traveled to Atlanta after the game, spending the night before a scheduled flight today to St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, for the Paradise Jam Tournament.
UT opens the eight-team tournament against East Carolina (1-2) at 3:30 p.m. Friday. No. 7 Purdue is the favorite on the other side of the bracket. Other teams include Northern Iowa, DePaul, St. Joseph’s, Boston College and South Dakota State.
Records: The previous record for points scored was 121 on two occasions, against Mexico (Jan. 24, 1966), and Long Beach State (March 16, 2007). UT’s assist record was set against Chattanooga on Nov. 15, 2008. The Vols have made 16 shots from 3-point range on five occasions, all in the Pearl era.