Vol bench delivers

Many basketball coaches "shorten their bench" in big games by playing fewer reserves than normal. Tennessee's Bruce Pearl disdained that strategy Tuesday night at Kentucky, and the move paid big dividends.

In addition to the five starters, plus super subs JaJuan Smith and Stanley Asumnu, Pearl gave Jordan Howell and Ryan Childress some meaningful minutes when the outcome was very much in doubt. Both Howell and Childress came through big-time, contributing significantly to the Vols' 75-67 victory.

Howell played seven minutes in relief of C.J. Watson at the point, recording four assists. Moreover, he did not commit a turnover despite a tenacious Kentucky defense and a rabid Big Blue crowd.

Pearl's response? "Jordan had four assists? Wow!"

Childress' performance may have been even more encouraging. The 6-foot-9, 250-pound freshman drained a 3-pointer shortly after coming off the bench, boosting Tennessee's lead to 36-27 late in the first half. That trey proved to be the difference as the Vols went to intermission with a 39-36 lead. Childress also did a good job banging the boards and playing under control during his relief stint.

"Ryan Childress makes a big 3, gets a big offensive rebound and doesn't turn it over," Pearl noted on his post-game radio show. "That's what has to happen in order for you to do something special like this."

Childress made another strong showing three days earlier against Ole Miss, recording 2 points, 3 rebounds (all off the offensive glass) and a steal in 7 strong minutes. He also came up ready to fight after crashing to the floor in a loose-ball scramble with 6-8, 290-pound Rebel bruiser Dwayne Curtis. Clearly, Childress brings a hard-nosed dimension to this Tennessee team.

"That's what we brought him in for," Pearl said. "It's great that he's playing a role. It's tough to be a freshman in this league and on this team. He didn't come in as part of a big class and he came in late, yet he's been asked to get out there. Three offensive rebounds … that's just effort."

Childress' aggressive and productive play against Ole Miss and Kentucky suggests he may be able to contribute on a regular basis as Tennessee's season heads down the home stretch. That would be a huge plus.

"It's good to see he's got that kind of heart and toughness," Pearl said. "We'll build on that."


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