"Just because that wasn't his reputation doesn't mean he couldn't do it," Vol senior Dane Bradshaw said.
Tabb proved that Friday night, picking up the offensive slack for preseason All-American Chris Lofton, who was limited by foul trouble to six points in 21 minutes.
"Josh Tabb, coming in with Chris Lofton in foul trouble like he was, was a huge part of that game," UT coach Bruce Pearl said. "Josh played with poise and took what the defense gave him, including making two 3s."
Although Tabb contributed way more than expected on offense, he still did plenty on defense. The 6-4 freshman hounded Blue Raider guards all over the floor, recording two steals and forcing a goodly number of the visitors' 22 turnovers.
"He's a great defender, probably the best freshman defender we've seen in a long time," Bradshaw said.
Tabb's long-range shooting may have surprised fans and media, but it didn't surprise his teammates. They had seen him drain 3-pointers with regularity in practice.
"His ability to knock down the open shot could be huge for us," Bradshaw said. "With guys like JaJuan and Tony (Passley) and Josh on the wing, that's going to open up more things for Chris on the other wing."
One of three players brought into the post-game interview room, Tabb seemed a little overwhelmed by all of the attention.
"In the locker room, me and JuJuan was talking, and he told me if I get open shots to take ‘em," Tabb said. "I felt pretty good coming into the game. I'm just out here playing basketball."
Asked where his points came from, Tabb replied: "From my teammates. I got the good looks tonight – a lot of open shots – so I knocked ‘em down."
Tabb says there's no secret to his success. He goes all out, whether he's on offense or defense.
"I just play hard, do what I've got to do to help the team win," he said. "Coach told us if we play harder than the other team we've got a pretty good chance to win."
Tabb played reasonably well in the Vols' two preseason exhibition games but clearly stepped it up a notch in the regular-season opener.
"The crowd was more into it," he said. "Our team was more pumped up and excited about our first game of the season. The whole atmosphere was different. It's exciting. This is my first year, and I've been waiting on this a long time."
Although he is the least heralded member of Tennessee's celebrated five-man freshman class, Tabb was the most impressive of the rookies Friday night.
"You can see what a great defender he is," Pearl said. "It was great to see Josh really step up and contribute."