Ramar-kable performance

Freshman Ramar Smith exhibited the nerves of a tight-rope walker Saturday, which was good, since he had no safety net. With Jordan Howell out of action and Dane Bradshaw out of gas for much of the second half, Smith had the point-guard duties to himself as Tennessee battled Texas.

Seemingly oblivious to the pressure, he gave his career performance – 16 points, 9 assists and zero turnovers in 38 amazing minutes – as the Vols outlasted the Longhorns 111-105 in overtime.

Asked if he'd ever played 38 minutes without a turnover before, Ramar Smith smiled, shook his head and replied, "Nah, this was the best game of my career right now."

Bruce Pearl was pleased but not terribly surprised by Smith's remarkable progress the past few games.

"You just continue to see it," the Vol coach said. "This was one more step.

"Ramar's smart, and he's become really coachable. He learned from Jordan, he learned from his own mistakes, he learned from watching tape of C.J. Watson last year. More than anything, though, he learned how to deal with me.

"Early on, I was on him – not to be critical but to teach him. Early on, he had a hard time with that."

College has been a series of hard times for Smith. An off guard in high school, he had to endure a crash course in point-guard play upon arriving at Tennessee last summer. He dealt with that.

After starting the first six games, he lost his first-team berth to Howell. He dealt with that.

Saturday, with Howell sidelined and the injury-plagued Bradshaw limited by fatigue to eight second-half minutes, Smith had to play 23 of the game's final 25 minutes.

With Howell out six to eight weeks due to a fractured hand, Smith realizes he must start AND play the vast majority of the minutes for the foreseeable future. Still, he says the sudden change in role didn't concern him against Texas.

"I felt good ... confident," he said. "Coach was telling me to do what I know I can do and my teammates helped me (compile the assist total) by knocking down shots. I just penetrated in, and got 'em the ball."

Tennessee played an awful first half and went to the break trailing 50-35. The Vols rallied valiantly in the second half, however, then outscored Texas 22-16 in overtime.

"We were just getting out-hustled the first half," Smith said. "They were playing harder than us. The second half we came out and played good ball, like we knew we could."

Smith and the other Vol guards drove to the basket aggressively. This caused two Longhorns to foul out and another, 6-9 freshman superstar Kevin Durant, to sit out five minutes of the second half with four fouls.

"We knew they were smaller than us and in foul trouble," Smith said, "so we had to keep attacking the rim."

Mission accomplished. Smith attacked it for 38 minutes ... without a turnover.


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