But Wayne Chism made sure that Bruce Pearl got his first Hanukkah gift early as well.
It came in the form of an 80-68 win over No. 24 Marquette in the second-annual Big East-SEC Invitational on Tuesday.
Chism led the Volunteers with 26 points and 11 rebounds and took charge during a critical second-half stretch – scoring 15 of his team's 19 points over a four-minute period – in which UT would take the lead for good. Chism, a Nashville native, has never lost a game at the Sommet Center during his basketball career.
"We're a different team when Wayne Chism is playing," said Pearl. "We knew he had the ability to do this. It's a huge event for him."
With Tennessee down 48-46 at the 10:08 mark, Chism was fouled shooting a three-pointer and sank 2-of-3 from the line. Tennessee shot free-throws on their next three possessions, including a pair off a technical foul on Dominic James. For the game, the Vols were 26-of-36 from the line.
Shortly after Chism's dominant stretch, Marquette's Jerel McNeal picked up his fifth foul, leaving the Golden Eagles seven points down and without their most explosive scorer with 5:35 to play in the game.
"Whenever we get into foul trouble – whoever it is – we're out of whack," said Marquette head coach Buzz Williams.
Marquette kept it close down the stretch, however, cutting the deficit to two on a three-pointer by Lazar Hayward with 2:22 to play. But the Golden Eagles faded after that, as the final margin represented the largest lead of the game for either team.
"We never feel that we're out of the game with our firepower," said Wes Matthews. "We fought, brought us within two, but they just ended up making a play when the ball bounced their way."
The Golden Eagles largest lead came with 13:12 left in the first half. At that point, Marquette led 15-6 after hitting 3-of-7 from beyond the arc to start the game. Tennessee started 0-of-5 from the perimeter, but they clawed back by getting the ball inside – going on an 11-4 run to cut their deficit to two points in the next 3:09.
"I told my players we needed to dominate the 4 and 5 spot in order to win," said Pearl.
Tennessee went ahead for the first time off a Brian Williams layup with 6:27 left in the first half. The lead would change nine times before Chism's decisive outburst.
"I think Chism's a pro," said Buzz Williams. "He can get work done in the paint and he can step out and hit the three. That's why he's been All-SEC."
Chism and his teammates frustrated his teammates with their 2-3 zone defense. The Golden Eagles shot only 38 percent from the field (18-of-48) and 32 percent from beyond the arc (8-of-25).
"We needed to make them beat us from three," said Pearl. "Not from two or free." Matthews led all scorers with a career-high 30 point. Half of that tally came from the free-throw line, where the senior went 15-18.
Marquette needed Matthews to step up due to a frustrating night for McNeal. McNeal was never able to get on track in the second half, scoring only two points before fouling out. He finished with 10 points and four turnovers on the night.
Marquette committed a season-high 30 fouls and had three players foul out …David Cubillan played 0+ minutes after being pulled for giving up a basket on a fast break. "Every single minute is critical," said Williams. "He's getting better, but every single possession is important."