"We weren't playing our type of ball – up and down," Vol guard JaJuan Smith said. "We were moving around slow, standing and watching."
Tennessee got its transition offense going at the start of the second half, however. The Vols drained four quick 3-pointers from the left corner in a three-minute spurt that saw them outscore Tusculum 16-4 and pad the lead to 52-31.
"We made Tusculum play a tempo they didn't want to play," said Smith, who hit two of the 3-pointers during the outburst.
That tempo was just about to wear out the Pioneers, who closed to 53-36 before wilting. Tennessee put the game away with an incredible 25-1 explosion that widened the gap to 41 points (78-37) with 10:03 remaining. The visitors were history.
"The second half their fatigue set in, and we were fresh, bringing in all the bodies we've got," junior guard Chris Lofton said. "We just tried to put some daggers in ‘em."
Tennessee shot 71.1 percent the second half to finish at 51.9 percent. The Vols won the backboards 44-34 and forced 36 turnovers but shot an icy 26.7 percent (4 of 15) from the foul line.
Smith led the scoring for the second game in a row, finishing with 21 points on 8-of-12 shooting that included 5 of 8 beyond the arc. He also contributed 5 rebounds, 4 steals and 3 assists in 22 sparkling minutes.
Wayne Chism, who started in the post, chipped in 12 points, 5 rebounds, 5 steals and 2 blocks. Fellow freshmen Ramar Smith and Duke Crews also had big nights. Smith had 11 points, 8 assists and 3 steals in 18 minutes as the starting point guard. Crews contributed 11 points and 9 rebounds (7 of them off the offensive glass) in 19 minutes. Lofton chipped in 10 points and Ryan Childress contributed 9 points and 9 rebounds.
Guard Chris Poore led Tusculum in both points (21) and rebounds (7).
"Poore can play basketball. He gave us problems," Pearl said. "He could play for us. I'd find a spot on the floor for him."
Although displeased with the first half, the Vol coach called the game "a better test" and praised the Pioneers for "coming in here and exposing us."
What Tusculum exposed is that Tennessee is a mediocre halfcourt team that may have to rely more on outlasting its foes than outplaying them.
"The key is for us to execute when both teams are fresh," Pearl said, adding: "Fatigue was a factor."
Tennessee opens the regular season this Friday night against visiting Middle Tennessee State. Tipoff is set for 7:30.