Crowd crucial?

Last Saturday night the second-ranked Florida Gators out-shot Tennessee by 10 percentage points (52.6 to 42.4), while producing more assists (19 to 17) and more blocked shots (7 to 2).

So, how did the Vols manage to win the game?

At least part of the answer was a crowd of 24,011 at Thompson-Boling Arena that provided emotional and vocal support from the opening tip to the final horn.

"It did a lot for the team morale," senior forward Andre Patterson said. "We came out with more energy, wanted to play well for the fans."

Basically, the crowd willed Tennessee to victory that evening. Spurred by their noisy backers, the Vols out-shot and out-rebounded the previously unbeaten Gators in the second half, coming from behind to win 80-76.

Head coach Bruce Pearl is hoping for the same kind of enthusiasm from boosters Saturday at 5, when the Vols (13-3 oveall, 4-1 SEC) host South Carolina (11-8, 2-4).

"The difference can be the crowd," Pearl said. "The crowd can take us to another level."

Patterson agrees. Now in his third year with the program, he recalls all too well how little impact UT fans had in years past.

"I remember games here when we could hear a penny drop," he said, grinning broadly.

Those days are gone. Big Orange boosters have rallied around Pearl and his troops, showing up in large numbers to cheer UT to victory. Another 20,000-plus fans are expected to attend this weekend's game between the Gamecocks and the 19th-ranked Vols.

"I just want them to come every night like that," Patterson said. "We just have to keep winning for them to come."

Tennessee's players walked through the student section on their way to the floor for pre-game warm-ups vs. Florida. The move was so well received that it may be repeated for the Carolina game.

As Patterson noted: "We just wanted to show some love for them (students) showing love for us."

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