At halftime, Tennessee trotted to the locker room, a 43-13 lead on the scoreboard.
Hey, it was all good. Those recent nights of struggling to get to 40? Forget about it. Hitting the century mark wasn't out of the question against Presbyterian.
Presbyterian College, a fledgling Division I member, had already lost by 33 at Clemson, 45 at Wisconsin, and 29 at Creighton this season.
Nevertheless, UT coach Cuonzo Martin felt compelled to issue a warning.
"I told the guys at halftime, 'Let's not let the score be 75-60,' '' Martin said later.
It was 78-62.
With apologies to Charles Dickens, for a Thompson-Boling Arena crowd announced at 14,495, it was the best of halves, it was the worst of halves.
The aggregate score is all that matters, which is good for UT because little Presbyterian won the second half, 49-35.
Let's not lose perspective. In a week that's seen Butler upset No. 1 Indiana, Jim Boeheim win his 900th game and the seven Catholic schools rip away from the jerry-rigged Big East Conference, Tennessee getting hosed by the Blue Hose in the second half won't be the national headline.
Still, it's worrisome. Martin
calls what happened "mental slippage" and he's seen it before.
"We've got to work on competing the whole 40 minutes,'' said junior D'Montre Edwards. "We did a tremendous job the first half. … Once we get 'em in the hole we've just got to keep 'em there.''
After shooting 23.1 percent the first half, the Blue Hose shot 64.3 percent the second half. They were 1-of-13 from 3-point range the first half, 7-of-10 the second.
"We got a lot of the same shots we got the first half,'' said Presbyterian coach Greg Nibert. "I'll look at the tapes, but I think we had some wide-open shots.''
Presbyterian point guard Eric Washington handled UT's defense fine, judging from his box score — 10 assists, one turnover. In fact the Blue Hose had just five turnovers on the night.
"Probably the fewest since I've been at Presbyterian,'' said Nibert, and this is his 24th year.
No one was more transformed than guard Khalid Mutakabbir. He was scoreless at the half, then went Jodie Meeks on the Vols, ripping in 18 points.
"We played horrible defense,'' said UT's Jarnell Stokes. "That's not how we play defense.
"It's a good thing our offense was going.''
Good point. Making baskets was never a serious issue for the Vols.
Five players hit double figures, including Edwards off the bench. UT shot a credible 40.9 percent from 3-point range and swished its first 11 free throws.
Presbyterian's Nibert, who's been on a fair tour of power-conference teams, was impressed.
"They're right up there with Creighton, Wisconsin, all those guys we've played,'' he said. "They've got size, they've got length and they've got toughness.''
But if they had all that for 40 minutes, it would be better.