Vols spelling relief T-A-B-B

As the second-leading scorer and the top perimeter defender, JaJuan Smith is one of Tennessee's key basketball players. So, when he went to the bench with two fouls just four minutes into Game 9 vs. Memphis, Vol fans groaned.

They needn't have. Help was on the way. Josh Tabb, the unheralded freshman from Carbondale, Ill., came off the bench and exhibited the poise of a senior. Over the next 16 minutes he grabbed a team-high 5 rebounds, made a team-high 2 steals and dished out an assist. He was 0 for 2 from the floor – both 3-pointers – but his outstanding floor play enabled Tennessee to turn an 8-5 deficit into a 43-22 halftime lead. That gave him a first-half grade of plus-24, meaning UT outscored its foe by 24 points while Tabb was on the floor.

Head coach Bruce Pearl, who preaches defense, was understandably ecstatic.

"Look at the first half," he said, grabbing a stat sheet. "We had a 21-point lead at halftime, and JaJuan had hardly played because he picked up the two quick fouls. Josh Tabb is so solid defensively. He made us better out there, and he rebounds the ball, too."

Tabb came to Tennessee with a reputation as a defensive dynamo, and he has done nothing to tarnish that image. In his 24- minute relief stint vs. Memphis he did not allow the players he guarded to score a single point.

That wasn't terribly surprising, however. Tabb clearly takes great pride in playing air-tight defense. It may be a thankless role, but it's his role and he relishes it.

"He's real unselfish," Pearl said, literally beaming. "That's why he's such a great defender, because he's such an unselfish kid."

Tabb has played 158 minutes to date, which is roughly the equivalent of four 40-minute games. Figuring his averages over four games, instead of nine, would produce 8.5 points, 6.2 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 2.5 steals per game. Those numbers give a good indication of just how productive he has been for the 7-2 Vols.

Because first-team wings Chris Lofton and JaJuan Smith are such outstanding scorers, Tabb knows there is little pressure on him to put the ball in the basket. Still, he has shown himself capable of scoring when the need arises. He drained 12 of his first 15 field-goal tries this season – including 5 of 6 from 3-point range – before slumping (1 of 11 overall, 1 of 7 beyond the arc) the past four games.

"Josh can score," Pearl noted. "He showed you that in the early season."

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