Bruce Pearl began Tuesday night’s game as a coach on the couch. He ended it as a fan with no need for a sofa.
“I’m analyzing things throughout much of the game,” Tennessee’s men’s basketball coach said at Wednesday’s press luncheon. “And I’m as much of a fan as any Vols fan at the end.
“The pad and the paper are long gone at the end. I’m out there screaming and praying like every other Vol fan out there. There’s no difference.”
Pearl, who is serving an eight-game SEC-imposed game-day suspension, watched from his Knoxville home as the Vols beat Georgia 59-57 on a last-second shot in Athens, Ga., on Tuesday night. And he felt as happy and relieved as any fan that the final seconds played out the way they did, with Brian Williams scoring off an offensive rebound a fraction of a second before time expired.
“I think that gets called a foul on Brian Williams most of the time,” Pearl said. “But there are a couple of factors where it doesn’t.
“One factor: Brian had two hands on the basketball before he made contact with (Chris) Barnes. If Brian doesn’t have possession of the basketball prior to the contact, it’s probably a bad no-call.”
The television replay showed Williams had both hands on the ball as Barnes backed into him in pursuit of Tobias Harris’ missed shot.
“We got a win against a team that won’t lose many at home,” Pearl said. “Vanderbilt was a must win because it was at home. Georgia was an opportunity because most teams aren’t going down there and beat Georgia.
“We’re obviously fortunate to do that.”
Another opportunity is coming up. The Vols (12-6) will play in Hartford, Conn., against eighth-ranked Connecticut (14-2) Saturday (TV: WVLT, 2 p.m.).
“UConn is playing (like) one of the top four teams in the country,” Pearl said. “The environment will be tremendous.
“We’re playing against arguably the best player (Kemba Walker) in the country. He leads the Big East in scoring. Jim Calhoun is obviously a legendary hall of fame coach.
“But if you don’t put these games on the schedule, you don’t give the kids a chance to win them. . . . So you put them in harm’s way and see how they respond.”
Pearl won’t have to watch their response from his living room. Since it’s a non-conference game, he will return to the bench. Associate head coach Tony Jones has been in charge on game day in Pearl’s absence.
“I’m excited (about returning),” Pearl said. “But I want it to be as much the same as we can have it be, because I won’t be there Wednesday against LSU.
“Try to treat it like an injury. We’re a man down. Now, we’ve got somebody back.”
Getting Jobbed?: ESPN basketball analysts Dick Vitale and Jay Bilas have both said Pearl should have been punished more severely for his NCAA violations. But Pearl said he tries not to take the criticism personally.
“They have a job to do,” he said.
During last Saturday’s telecast of the UT-Vanderbilt game, Vitale said 99 percent of schools would have fired Pearl immediately after he lied to NCAA investigators.
“These decisions (in regard to Pearl’s punishment) are made by people with all the information,” Pearl said. “So sometimes it’s puzzling when people make strong statements when they don’t have all the facts.”
Corner Shots: Power forward Harris took corner shots in the final seconds against Arkansas and Georgia. That’s not a coincidence.
“The reason why Tobias is open on those last-second shots is because when dribble penetration occurs, guards are taught to stay in passing lanes and bigs (who guard Harris) are taught to sink (into the post),” Pearl said. “So when a big sinks, Tobias goes to the corner.
“Tobias got a really good look (against Georgia). But (Trey) Thompkins closed on him very fast and challenged his shot, maybe even got a piece of it.”
Tough For Thompkins: UT’s defensive strategy against Georgia was a factor in the victory. The evidence was in Thompkins’ stat line: The preseason All-SEC player of the year made only four of 13 shots and scored 13 points, five below his average.
The Vols guarded Thompkins, a power forward, with centers Williams and John Fields.
Harris guarded center Jeremy Price, who is less of a scoring threat.
“It paid dividends,” Pearl said.
John Adams is a senior columnist. He may be reached at 865-342-6284 or email@example.com. Follow him at @johnadamskns.