There have been a number of concerns expressed in the preseason about whether or not the 2008-09 Tennessee Basketball Volunteers could match the scoring output, particularly from the perimeter, with the loss of Chris Lofton (above) and JaJuan Smith. Both were two of the team’s top scorers from a year ago.
At least for now, those fears can be put to rest.
The No. 14 Volunteers made 11 of 29 three pointers and set a school record for assists as they coasted to a 114-75 blowout of Chattanooga.
Tennessee had six players scoring in double figures, led by Tyler Smith’s 21 points. Junior college transfer Bobby Maze added a double-double with 12 points and 10 assists.
"Our pressure was disruptive, and we obviously shot the ball tremendously well with 32 assists on 43 baskets," Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl said.
Tennessee’s pressure defense forced overwhelmed Chattanooga into committing 24 turnovers.
"We thought we were ready, but we just didn't bring it. Our team has a lot of work to do, and it showed tonight. We're not ready yet,” Mocs senior forward Nicchaeus Doaks said.
Chattanooga is one the preseason favorites to win the Southern Conference. The Mocs haven’t been to the big dance since their improbable run to the Sweet 16 in 1997.
The Volunteers were physical, dominating the game almost from the beginning. Their tremendous depth was a cause for concern for Chattanooga going into the game, and indeed Tennessee had ten players logging double-digit minutes.
Considering they were playing against one of the best out of the Southern Conference, this win gives the Big Orange faithful something encouraging as football season winds down.
Tennessee also extended their home winning streak to 33 games, tying the previous school record from back in 1968.
The Volunteers opened the game slowly.
The Mocs jumped out to an early 8-7 lead almost four minutes in, before Tennessee turned up the pressure with a 12-0 run over the next minute and a half, and never looked back as they built a 60-37 halftime lead.
One of the keys to winning had to do with establishing a presence in the post, thereby limiting UTC’s second chance opportunities. The Volunteers had 29 defensive rebounds against just seven offensive rebounds for the Mocs.
Last season at Chattanooga, the Mocs had 17 offensive rebounds, while Tennessee grabbed 15 on the defensive end.
Today though the Volunteers got solid defensive play on the interior from Brian Williams and Wayne Chism, who also had a double-double with 14 points and 13 rebounds.
“With the exception of Doaks, they had a hard time scoring on the inside,” Pearl said, adding, “This basketball team could’ve pushed around physically, and they didn’t.”
The Big Orange will continue their tour of Tennessee with games this week against UT-Martin on Tuesday and at Middle Tennessee on Friday night.
Granted, it is just one game, but Tennessee looked good enough to justify the lofty expectations of repeating as SEC Champions. They have away dates with Temple and Kansas, and welcome Gonzaga and Memphis to Thompson-Boling Arena before starting their SEC slate.