So did the undersized Vols' unexpected backboard prowess. Tennessee grabbed 12 of the game's first 15 rebounds, fueling a 13-0 run that turned a 6-4 lead into a 19-4 bulge. When Murray used an 11-0 spurt to pull within 19-15, Tennessee responded with a 12-0 outburst that padded the lead to 31-15. At this point the Vols held a 22-6 advantage on the backboards.
By halftime, Tennessee had a 42-28 lead and more offensive rebounds (13) than Murray State had total rebounds (10).
The streaky play continued in the second half. The Racers scored the first seven points to pull within 42-35 but the Vols answered with a 15-0 spurt that widened the gap to 57-35.
The margin peaked at 33 points (80-47) with 5:52 remaining. A minute later, with 4:48 left on the clock, Pearl paired freshmen Wayne Chism (6-9) and Duke Crews (6-8) for the first time all season. The two were together for just 2:15 of clock time, then Chism went to the bench with 2:33 to go.
Asked how Chism and Crews performed together, Pearl replied, "OK."
While the coach wasn't overly impressed with the two rookies as a tandem, he was quite impressed with their work as a tag team. Chism (13 points, 9 rebounds) and Crews (12 points, 5 rebounds) combined for 25 points and 14 rebounds. They also shot 15 free throws between them.
"That's good stuff," Pearl said. "To have our 5 men score like that and get to the foul line, I thought that was real positive."
The only negative: Crews was 4 of 9 from the floor and Chism 3 of 9, prompting Pearl to note: "I'd like to see us be able to finish more around the basket."
While the post duo was playing quite well, the point guard duo of Jordan Howell and Ramar Smith was merely adequate, combining for 10 points, 7 assists and 4 turnovers. Howell contributed 3 points, 3 assists and 1 turnover in 22 minutes; Smith 7 points, 4 assists and 3 turnovers in 17 minutes.
Pearl characterized Howell's play as "OK," adding: "Ramar outplayed him the first half (3 assists, 0 turnovers) and it was even in the second half."
Chris Lofton hit 5 of 9 floor shots – 4 of 7 from 3-point range – and finished with a team-high 20 points for Tennessee, now 6-2. Chism added 13, Crews and Dane Bradshaw 12 each. JaJuan Smith had an off night shooting (1 of 7 from beyond the arc) but chipped in 10 points, 8 rebounds and 3 steals.
Vol freshman Marques Johnson, who has not played in the past four games, may sit out the rest of the season and redshirt, Pearl said, adding: "I'm not going to play him just to give him garbage minutes."
Tennessee hosts Memphis Wednesday night. Tipoff is set for 9 p.m. to accommodate ESPN2, which will televise the game.