Pearl's press pays

Tennessee basketball fans are buzzing – pardon the pun – about the up-tempo offense that has Tennessee averaging 93.7 points per game. But new coach Bruce Pearl's high-energy defense may be even more impressive.

Heading into tonight's game with Murray State in Nashville, Tennessee has forced 78 turnovers in three games. That's an average of 26 per game, nearly double last year's average of 14 under ousted coach Buzz Peterson.

Though admittedly "surprised by the turnover total for the first three games," Pearl says the eye-popping statistic is a direct reflection of the Vols' extensive use of full-court pressure.

Basically, Tennessee's press can be summed up in eight words: Even when it doesn't work, it works … eventually. That was the case in Game 3 against Eastern Kentucky. The Colonels handled the press early but were buried by it in the second half, finishing with 25 turnovers in a 92-58 loss.

"Eastern Kentucky scored against the press three times in our first six possessions but I felt like it was going to take its toll," Pearl recalled. "There are times when I'll get out of it because I think going in that pressure's not going to be good for us because of tempo. I felt tempo would be good versus Eastern and we stayed with it. A lot of teams would've gotten out of it because early in the game they came down and scored. But eventually it took its toll."

Sophomore guard Chris Lofton, mindful of how passively UT played defense last year, conceded that the press eventually turned the game against Eastern Kentucky.

"Our pressure became a factor in the second half," he said. "Pressuring the whole game really wears the other team out and pays off in the second half, when they're turning the ball over and we're getting steals.

"If we keep it up, we should be OK."

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