Scotty Hopson let his play do the talking after not meeting with the media in the days leading up to Wednesday’s game against LSU.
The message was loud and clear.
“I had to come out with aggression,’’ Hopson said, “and do the things I know I can do.’’
Hopson scored 17 of his SEC career-high 22 points in the first half as Tennessee ran away from LSU for a 75-53 men’s basketball victory before a crowd of 18,991 at Thompson-Boling Arena.
UT associate head coach Tony Jones was at the helm as coach Bruce Pearl served the fifth game of his eight-game SEC suspension.
The Vols didn’t miss a beat, improving to 13-7 and 3-2 in the SEC with their third consecutive league win.
“We know Scotty is a very capable player; we don’t win some of the big games we’ve won without him having this type of performance,’’ Jones said. “In some instances he hasn’t played like this. The key thing is to keep his focus and keep his aggressiveness, and tonight he got us off to a great start.’’
Tennessee raced out to a 43-27 lead at the half and LSU (10-10, 2-3) didn’t draw closer than 13 the rest of the game.
Tobias Harris recorded a double-double, his sixth of the season, with 11 points and 11 rebounds for Tennessee. Cameron Tatum (13 points) and Melvin Goins (11) also scored in double figures. Center John Fields only scored two points, but he set his UT career high with five blocked shots.
But as Pearl has said throughout the season, as Hopson goes, so go the Vols.
That pressure led Hopson to change things up and decline interview requests for the first time in his career.
After his five-turnover performance in the Vols’ 72-61 loss at No. 5 Connecticut last Saturday, the junior felt he needed to regroup and didn’t want any distractions.
“I had to get my focus back,’’ said Hopson, who was 9-of-14 shooting with six rebounds and no turnovers. “There really wasn’t a lot I could say.
“That loss at Connecticut was on me; it was a lack of focus, a lack of effort, and I’m accountable for it.’’
Pearl saw to it that Hopson got plenty of work in the days leading up to the game with LSU.
In Tuesday’s scrimmage, Hopson made 16 of 18 shots and was 8-of-10 shooting beyond the arc.
“When Coach Pearl comes at the team, and comes at me, it gets us all fired up,’’ Hopson said. “He said if we don’t play hard and get the win, we were going to have to run. We didn’t want to do that.’’
And Hopson didn’t want to let his mother down, either.
Janette Hopson was back in attendance at a UT game for the first time since the Vols’ opening exhibition game. A back issue had prevented her from making it to any of the other games.
“That was big for me,’’ Hopson said. “You know I wanted to show out for Mom.’’
The whole team put on a worthy performance, crisply moving the ball around the perimeter against LSU’s 2-3 zone, recording 20 assists with a season-low seven turnovers.
“We were just focused on our game plan, and we knew we’d see that zone,’’ said Goins, who matched his career high with six assists. “Our shooters were knocking down shots on the perimeter, and we were able to get it into the high post and good things happened.’’
The Vols return to action at 4 p.m. Saturday (TV: WVLT) at Ole Miss. UT is 0-2 in Oxford, Miss., in Pearl’s five-plus seasons as coach.