Crews accepted the criticism philosophically.
"We understand we're not going to have our best night every night," the 6-7, 233-pounder said. "We didn't play as well as he wanted us to but our guards bailed us out that time."
Shortly after criticizing Crews and Chism publicly, however, Pearl praised them privately, assuring them they had the potential to neutralize Oklahoma State's imposing front line in Game 11. The strategy worked: Two days after stinking it up against Western, Crews contributed 17 points and 9 rebounds, Chism 9 points and 6 rebounds, as the Vols upset the No. 14 Cowboys 79-77.
"We're still really young on the front line and we're still undersized but I think, physically, we've stepped up to the challenge," Pearl said this week. "Oklahoma State didn't overwhelm us inside, which they did a year ago. That's a real good sign."
Asked about the critical comments directed at Crews and Chism following the Western Kentucky game, Pearl said, "I just try to be honest with them."
Crews concedes that Pearl's comments – both the public criticism and the private praise – helped him and Chism bounce back following their lethargic play vs. the Hilltoppers.
"He's good at the motivational thing," Crews said, grinning smugly. "After the way we played against Western Kentucky, he said (privately) that we could go in and play with those (Oklahoma State) guys. That gave us a whole lot of confidence going into the game against some real solid post players."
Pearl's assistants also deserve considerable credit for the upset of Oklahoma State.
"Our coaching staff is great at doing the scouts," Crews said. "We knew everything about the (OSU) players – all their tendencies and stuff. That helped a lot out, too."
With the assistant coaches providing information and Pearl providing motivation, Crews and Chism are gradually developing into a potent 1-2 punch.
"Going into Nashville and playing against a team with big men that can really get it done – like Oklahoma State has – we figured we had to do our part in that game," Crews said. "And that's what he did."