C.J. nears 500 assists

The Tennessee Vols have compiled an 8-1 record heading into Wednesday's game with visiting South Alabama (7 p.m. tip-off at Thompson-Boling Arena), but they couldn't have done it without a big assist from their senior point guard.

C.J. Watson is "Mr. Assist" among the Vols. Now in his fourth season as a starter, he needs just two vs. South Alabama to become the fourth player in UT history and 18th in Southeastern Conference history to record 500 career assists.

This season Watson ranks seventh among SEC players in assists with 4.2 per game. He does a lot more than set up teammates, however. He also ranks sixth among SEC players in scoring (16.4 points per game), fourth in steals (2.44 per game), first in free-throw percentage (89.5) and second in 3-point percentage (48.7).

In short, Watson is having a superb senior year, and head coach Bruce Pearl has noticed.

"C.J. has been the most productive player in the SEC, based on his shooting percentages – field goal percentage, 3-point percentage and free throw percentage," Pearl said recently. "The number of points he has per shot is the highest in the SEC. That says something about him finding offense in the framework of what we do and doing it very productively."

Watson's clutch free-throw shooting has sealed several tight victories this season. For instance, he sank nine of 10 in the final 3:48 last Thursday as Tennessee held off Lipscomb 69-58. For the night he was 13 of 14.

Pearl joked about the performance later, comparing Watson's free-throw brilliance to teammate Stanley Asumnu's free-throw misadventures (1 of 6 vs. Lipscomb).

"On that technical foul, I was down to Stanley or C.J.," Pearl said with a smug grin. "It was really close. I couldn't decide which one I wanted to put up there (at the line)."

Asumnu, who came to UT as a freshman classmate of Watson's four years ago, has nothing but praise for his more-heralded teammate.

"He does a great job," Asumnu said. "He knows how to get to the line and he shoots a very high percentage. He's an excellent point guard and captain. That's what we need from him."

To date, that's precisely what the Vols are getting from him.

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