The Vols barely escaped Thompson-Boling arena with a 86-76 victory over visiting Belmont in a game plagued with fouls, 60 between both teams. After leading by as much as 17 in the second half the Vols would see Belmont go on a 22-6 tear in the latter part of the second half to bring the lead to one point.
"Belmont is a good basketball team. I thought we did a pretty good job of being in control of the game most of the way," Bruce Pearl said. "Our second-half defense kept us in it. We were tentative to close it out."
The two teams lay tied with 34 seconds remaining in the contest before Cameron Tatum widened the gap to three with two free throws. The Vols would add six more free throws, shooting eight of eight from the line down the stretch.
"That's what we have been drilling over the last two weeks and we saw that was something that hurt us in the Indianapolis game," Cameron Tatum said. "Everybody has taken accountability and been getting in the gym taking extra free throws before and after practice. It paid dividends tonight."
"We did a tremendous job from the foul line," Pearl said.
Tatum and the Volunteers were plagued by turnovers in Tuesday's game, handing the ball over 27 times in the contest.
"The turnovers were a concern – we got stripped and ripped," Pearl said. "We weren't very sharp. We were kind of sloppy to begin with and then Belmont obviously took advantage of it."
The Vols were led by the play of senior Scotty Hopson who collected 18 points in route to the Vols victory. Hopson stayed out of foul trouble with only two in his team-high 29 minutes.
"I thought Scotty Hopson stepped up and was ready to play," Pearl said. "He showed he's the toughest cover-up on the floor. He did a better job defensively and did a better job staying out of foul trouble."
Vols fans got their first extended look at freshman point guard Trae Golden after senior Melvin Goins left the game following an injury to his side. Golden stepped in and racked up 5 assists in his relief duties. Pearl says Goins is doubtful for Wednesday night's game.
Freshman forward Tobias Harris was rock solid once again during Tuesday's game racking up 16 points and 7 rebounds. Cameron Tatum would add 14 points of his own shooting 2-3 from three-point land and 6-7 from the line.
"I thought Cameron Tatum made two plays late in the game that were crucial," Pearl said. "One, he took a charge with about 2:20 left. Then he got a big rebound with a three-point lead and stepped up and made two free throws. I thought those were game-winning plays."
After playing on the Scout team just days ago Kenny Hall found his way on to the court against the Bruins adding 5 points and 7 rebounds in the contest, but Hall also committed several turnovers.
"Kenny Hall coming in for the first time and going five for six at the foul line was huge, but Kenny had four turnovers, a moving screen, free throw line violation," Pearl said.
The young Volunteers team is still looking for their identity and it showed against Belmont, but Cameron Tatum says the more experience the better.
"We are still young, still growing, still trying to find to figure a lot of the pieces out, but we will get there," Tatum said. "As the games go on and we get in more situations like that I think the cream will rise to the top."
Pearl and the Vols will now face Missouri State with a 7:00 p.m. tip Monday evening. The Vols will again be faced with a tough test.
"One of the most physical teams we will play all year long," Pearl said. "One of the most experienced teams in the country. They are on everybody's list to make the NCAA tournament."