Stanley shows class

Andre Patterson responded beautifully to joining the starting lineup last night, producing 13 points and 11 rebounds as No. 19 Tennessee beat Mississippi State 88-65 in Starkville. An even bigger story, though, may have been how well fellow senior Stanley Asumnu responded to LEAVING the starting lineup.

Finally starting after three years as a backup, Asumnu had to be terribly disappointed to learn he is returning to reserve duty. He swallowed his pride, however, and did exactly what head coach Bruce Pearl hoped he would do – provide solid play off the bench.

Asumnu hit 5 of 8 floor shots and finished with 12 points vs. MSU. Three of his baskets came during a 21-5 outburst that turned a 14-14 tie into a 35-19 Tennessee lead that was never seriously threatened.

"Stanley did not want to come off the bench but he was willing," Pearl said on his post-game show. "We talked about some reasons why – defense, rebounding and shot selection. Stanley was 5 for 8 tonight, he made both free throws, he had four rebounds and didn't have a turnover. And I thought he played good defense on (Jamont) Gordon. That was a very solid performance by Stanley Asumnu."

Pearl also was encouraged by JaJuan Smith's reaction to the lineup change. Smith has been making his own push to join the starting five lately, and the coach worried that the 6-2 sophomore might be discouraged to see Patterson get the nod instead.

"Andre Patterson and JaJuan Smith were both playing so well that either one of those two guys deserved an opportunity to start," Pearl noted. "The first person I told about the change was JaJuan Smith. I needed to talk to JaJuan first because it easily could've been him, and I didn't want him to be negatively affected by having it be Andre. I told him simply, ‘Andre's a senior. I can't give you any other reason.'"

The fact Asumnu and Smith responded positively to NOT starting is significant. Tennessee's success is based on hustle and unselfishness, and a lapse in either category could be devastating.

Instead of hurting team chemistry, the lineup change is providing several obvious benefits. The 6-7 Patterson, who has 21 rebounds in the last two games, will provide a much-needed boost in terms of backboard play and inside scoring. Asumnu will play more disciplined now that getting out of control has cost him a starting job. And Smith will continue to provide a burst of energy off the bench.

All's well that ends well.

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