Pearl salutes UT students

Former University of Tennessee basketball coach Buzz Peterson used to reward students attending home games by giving them free pizza. Bruce Pearl is rewarding students by giving them quality basketball.

Pearl's plan certainly worked Wednesday night against No. 16 Memphis. The student section was jam-packed and especially animated. Even Tiger coach John Calipari noticed, pointing toward the students as they booed him during the pre-game introductions.

Feeding off the noise and enthusiasm generated by the student section, the Vols got off to a quick start, building a 43-22 halftime lead that eventually resulted in a 76-58 victory. Pearl conceded that Tennessee's players owed a debt of gratitude to their non-playing classmates.

"It was a great atmosphere. We had 4,000 students and then some," the Vol coach noted. "I hope they had a great time. It's a tough time for the students because they're in finals and study days right now. Our team is really glad we were able to give them a little bit of a release as they try to finish up strong academically before they head home.

"The fact they took time out to come out and support their basketball team means a great deal to me. And I know it means a great deal to our players and to our university."

The crowd was listed as 19,714 but that's the number of tickets sold. The actually attendance was more along the lines of 17,000. Still, it was a NOISY 17,000, and that gave the Vols a noticeable lift.

"The homecourt advantage was huge," Pearl said. "I told the guys we are blessed to be at the University of Tennessee and have that kind of support. That helped win this basketball game."

One way it helped was by firing up Chris Lofton, who scored a career-best 34 points. A large and vocal crowd brings out the best in him.

"It really does," he said. "I like playing in front of big crowds and just having fun playing the game I love."

INJURY UPDATE: Junior guard JaJuan Smith injured his left wrist when he was knocked to the floor attempting a dunk in the final minutes of the Memphis game. Fortunately for the Vols, x-rays showed no broken bones.

The university released a statement by trainer Chad Newman noting: "JaJuan Smith sustained a left wrist and hand injury last night against Memphis. Initial x-rays taken this morning were negative. He will rest for three to four days and then will be re-evaluated."

Tennessee (7-2) is taking final exams the next week or so. The Vols return to action Saturday, Dec. 16, hosting Western Kentucky at 4 p.m.

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