'Whole new ballgame'

The marketing folks at Tennessee are promoting first-year coach Bruce Pearl's Vol basketball team with the slogan "It's a whole new ballgame." That was obvious in Friday night's season-opening 106-83 thrashing of East Tennessee State.

With a little over 7:00 to play, JaJuan Smith crashed to the floor while pursuing a loose ball. Undeterred, he crawled on his stomach, grabbed the ball and deftly flicked it to Stanley Asumnu for a driving layup that brought the crowd to its feet.

Vol trustee Jim Haslam, sitting at courtside, was so moved by the all-out hustle play that he leaped to his feet, stepped to the sideline and gave Smith a high-five right there in front of 21,280 observers.

That kind of effort was nowhere to be seen last season. Or the season before. Or the season before that.

Interestingly enough, the difference between this year and previous years was just as apparent on the bench as it was on the floor.

When Chris Lofton ventured near the Vol bench after uncorking an errant first-half pass, assistant coach Jason Slay became so animated on the sidelines that Pearl had to calm him down. Since Pearl is a bundle of energy himself, seeing him being the restrainer, instead of the restrainee, was downright comical.

Compared to Buzz Peterson's aides, who showed all the emotion of statues the previous four years, Pearl's aides are nothing short of rowdy.

Tennessee basketball is "a whole new ballgame" in terms of tempo, as well. Whereas Peterson relied on a half-court offense and a half-court defense that generally kept scores in the 60s, Pearl's tempo is full-throttle at both ends of the court. That's how the offensively challenged Vols got dozens of good shots en route to ringing up 106 points.

"Part of it was that it was a transition game," Pearl said. "We're not going to get those looks in more of a half-court game. This is a team that will make the extra pass, and it needs to because we don't have a lot of breakdown guys. We don't have guys who make plays (one-on-one), so we've got to get each other good shots."

Although Pearl loves full-court pressure defense, he rarely utilized it in Friday night's opener. The visiting Buccaneers didn't need any prompting to race up and down the floor.

"They wanted to run, so we didn't have to make them go any faster," Pearl said. "They were going plenty fast for me, so we mixed it up (defensively)."

How well Tennessee mixed it up was evident by the fact ETSU was guilty of 33 turnovers. Most of these were forced by the hustle and determination of Vol defenders.

"When you force somebody into 33 turnovers that's playing hard," Pearl said. "And we made a lot of things happen at the offensive end off those turnovers."

That's true. Those turnovers created 33 offensive opportunities, which in turn created a 106-point output.

It's a whole new ballgame, all right.

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