Backin' the Big O

Tennessee basketball fans can't believe how many points the Vols are scoring. Likewise, the Vols can't believe how many seats the fans are filling at Thompson-Boling Arena.

A crowd of 21,612 attended Wednesday night's SEC home opener against Georgia, with roughly 4,000 of those being students.

"Coming out 40 minutes before the game and seeing the students there was amazing," junior forward Dane Bradshaw said following the 89-76 victory.

The students were animated and vocal all evening. Surprisingly enough, so were the older fans.

"It was crazy, seeing ‘em hold up the newspapers (during Georgia's introductions) or chanting with the pom-pons," Bradshaw said. "It was almost a football-like atmosphere … subtract 80,000 or so."

The Hoop Vols aren't accustomed to that kind of support but they certainly enjoyed it.

"Everybody really appreciated it, and we love the job Coach Pearl did getting out and trying to make a name for the team," Bradshaw noted. "We've gotten wins because of that."

Senior point guard C.J. Watson also credits head coach Bruce Pearl with the new level of excitement surrounding Big Orange basketball.

"Coach Pearl's brought a lot of energy with him," Watson said. "He's a first-year coach, and everybody's giving him a chance this first year. If we keep playing great basketball, it's going to keep working."

Although Pearl's charisma and marketing skills have helped considerably, the renewed popularity of UT hoops goes deeper than that. Clearly, fans have embraced this group of Vols. The obvious question: Why?

"I think they enjoy our style of play a lot," Bradshaw said. "I've heard many people say, ‘Even if you all lose, I'm going to keep coming out because I love the way you all play with heart and passion.'"

Of course, the fact Tennessee (11-1) is winning a lot hasn't hurt.

"Coach still feels we can play harder and that people are buying into it because of our up-tempo," Bradshaw said. "We've just got to continue to keep people happy, and wins can always do that."

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