Knockout punch

The Basketball Vols are showing a lot of things under Bruce Pearl they didn't under Buzz Peterson. Two of the most significant are this:

1. They're showing the poise to win by small margins.

2. They're showing the killer instinct to win by big margins.

On its way to an 8-1 start, Tennessee has won four games that were up for grabs entering the last five minutes – Louisiana Lafayette (83-76), Murray State (64-53), Appalachian State (89-81) and Lipscomb (69-58). Each time the Vols made enough plays on offense and enough stops on defense down the stretch to prevail.

Moreover, Tennessee has shown a knack for scoring the knockout when it has a foe on the ropes. This also has happened four times – vs. East Tennessee State (106-83), Eastern Kentucky (92-58), Texas (95-78) and Alabama A&M (93-68).

Tennessee almost never put a game out of reach during Peterson's four-year run as head coach. If the Vols got way ahead early they usually relaxed and frittered away much of the lead.

"We've been in situations where we've gotten up big on teams and just didn't put ‘em away," senior forward Stanley Asumnu conceded. "We let ‘em hang around and hang around and make it a game."

Although the 2005-06 Vols lack the talent and depth to win big very often, they seem intent on taking advantage of the opportunities they get. Against Alabama A&M, for instance, they closed the first half with a 13-6 spurt, then opened the second half with a 22-6 explosion, turning a scant 32-26 lead into a 67-38 bulge. Instead of relaxing at this point, the Vols kept battling, eventually expanding the lead to 30 (75-45).

"A game like that we want to get up on ‘em, then put ‘em away," Asumnu said. "We want to give the guys on our bench an opportunity to play and get some experience because there's going to be a time when we need them."

In addition to giving the reserves some playing time, an occasional blowout gives the starters some much-needed rest. With the taxing SEC grind soon to commence, Tennessee's first-teamers are going to need all the rest they can get.

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