Vols roll in Pearl's debut

Tennessee's basketball team put up some impressive numbers in Friday night's season opener against East Tennessee State.

The Vols scored 106 points.

They shot 61.3 percent from the field in the second half.

They hit 42.9 percent of their 3-point tries.

They forced 33 turnovers.

All five starters scored in double figures.

The victory margin was 23 points, 106-83.

Still, the most impressive number of all was 21,280. That's the number of curious fans who showed up at Thompson-Boling Arena to witness Bruce Pearl's Volunteer coaching debut. They wanted see what all the excitement was about.

Now they know.

After four years of Snooze Ball … uh, Buzz Ball, Pearl promised an offense that would produce points, a defense that would produce turnovers and a style of play that would produce excitement. Friday night he delivered on all counts. When the final horn sounded, what was left of the 21,280 gave him a standing ovation. He responded by striding into the stands to express his appreciation, accompanied by his players.

"This was a really good night for Tennessee basketball in a lot of ways," Pearl said. "I can't tell you how much I appreciate 21,280."

Asked why he waded into the crowd, Pearl replied: "The crowd was part of the solution tonight. When I saw the numbers (advance ticket sales) this afternoon, I told my wife, ‘Win or lose, I think we need to do this.' It's hard to have the kids do it when they're not victorious. The biggest thing was, the fans appreciated it."

As debuts go, this one was pretty strong.

After ETSU scored the game's first bucket, the Vols went on a 15-2 run to take a 15-4 lead. C.J. Watson and Chris Lofton hit back-to-back 3s to cap the spurt.

Lofton hit another 3 moments later, boosting the lead to 27-10. It was 46-31 at the break.

Tennessee built the lead to 77-53 with 10:03 remaining. Then the Vols went to sleep defensively and ETSU's Tim Smith woke up. Smith, who had more turnovers (6) than points (4) in the first half, single-handedly outscored Tennessee 11-0 during a 90-second spurt that narrowed the gap from 24 points to 13.

Despite the dramatic shift in momentum, Pearl resisted the urge to call timeout. He figured ETSU needed the rest more than his players did.

"I tell my guys, ‘When you're exhausted smile because we've got ‘em,'" Pearl said. "That's when our conditioning (pays off). I hate to call timeout in those situations. I thought we weathered the storm, stopped the run, and they were still tired. I didn't want to call timeout and give THEM a chance to rest."

The move worked. Lofton drained a 3-pointer, and the well-conditioned Vols pushed through the crisis and rebuilt the lead.

Lofton finished with 24 points, including 6-of-12 shooting from beyond the arc.

"Chris is such a dangerous weapon," Pearl noted. "We didn't run a lot of plays for Chris tonight, yet he gets 16 shots including 12 really good looks from 3."

Watson chipped in 22 points. Stanley Asumnu hit 8 of 11 floor shots and totaled 18 points. Dane Bradshaw, UT's 6-foot-4 power forward, posted his first career double-double, finishing with 13 points and 12 rebounds. He also recorded 6 assists. Major Wingate added 11 points, all in the first half.

Smith scored 22 second-half points for ETSU and finished with 26. Dillion Sneed, a powerfully built 6-7 forward, gave Tennessee fits on the inside.

"Tim Smith is one-man wrecking crew, and he can really break you down," Pearl said. "I was worried about Dillion Sneed. He's 15 (points) and 11 (rebounds) and a nice player. We got hammered in there tonight, and we're going to see a lot better (post players) in the SEC."

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