Killer instinct

Two games into the season it appeared Bruce Pearl's Tennessee basketball team lacked a killer instinct. In Game 3, however, the Vols stuck the dagger in Eastern Kentucky's heart and twisted it.

Game 1 saw Tennessee build a 46-31 halftime lead against East Tennessee State, then get lazy defensively. The Bucs shot 62.9 percent in the second half, got active on the backboards and made an 11-0 run that gave the home-standing Vols some anxious moments. UT ultimately pulled away late to prevail 106-83.

Game 2 saw Tennessee build a 43-25 halftime lead against Louisiana-Lafayette, then blow it all in the second half. The Ragin' Cajuns rallied furiously and actually took a late lead. The Vols had to make some clutch plays in the closing minutes to win 83-76.

Given these two post-halftime fades, Pearl was far from confident despite a 44-29 halftime lead in Friday night's game against Eastern Kentucky. So, the coach decided to take steps to try and prevent his players from suffering another second-half lapse.

"We challenged ‘em," he recalled. "C.J. (Watson) talked to ‘em at halftime. With our bench, playing seven or eight guys, we had just not rebounded and defended well in the second half this year. So I asked C.J. to go in there and talk to the team, and they did defend and rebound better in the second half."

Indeed, they did.

The Vols maintained their aggressiveness on offense, enabling them to out-shoot the Colonels 54.5 percent to 42.3 percent after intermission. They maintained their intensity on defense, as well, winning the backboards, forcing a bunch of turnovers and outscoring EKU by an even bigger margin in the second half (48-29) than they had in the first half.

Given their modest talent level, the Vols may not get many opportunities to showcase a killer instinct this season. But it's good to know they have one … just in case.

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