Growth spurt

When Tennessee and Texas took the court to begin last Saturday's overtime period at Thompson-Boling Arena, prominently displayed was the future of Big Orange basketball ... perhaps the NEAR future.

The Vols' overtime lineup consisted of juniors Chris Lofton and JaJuan Smith, along with three freshmen – Wayne Chism, Duke Crews and Ramar Smith. The rookies weren't just along for the ride, either. Chism scored 7 points in OT, Smith 6 and Crews 2. A fourth freshman, defensive ace Josh Tabb, came in to grab a crucial defensive rebound in the final minute as Tennessee prevailed 111-105.

"We happened to have all four of us out there at the same time guarding freshmen on the other team," Chism recalled. "We came out there anticipating that we can stop anybody, and we all played good games."

Indeed they did. Chism finished with a career-high 18 points and 8 rebounds. Crews added 16 points – one off his career best – along with 8 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals and a blocked shot. Smith contributed a career-high 16 points, a career-high 9 assists and 3 rebounds with zero turnovers. Tabb chipped in 2 points, 4 rebounds, an assist, a block and 2 steals in 18 productive minutes.

"Josh started off slow," Chism noted, "but he came back at the end, made a big defensive stop and got the big rebound."

As a group, the four freshmen combined for 50 of Tennessee's 111 points, 23 of its 48 rebounds, 13 of its 25 assists and 4 of its 5 steals. Clearly, head coach Bruce Pearl has his rookies on the fast track in their development.

"We're maturing very well," Chism said. "In practice Coach will say this and say that. If he ever says something two times, it's like 'Oh, my God!' But it's getting us ready for the big teams."

With senior forward Dane Bradshaw limited by injury and fatigue, the 6-9 Chism and the 6-7 Crews played more minutes together in the Texas game than at any time this season. They formed a pretty good 1-2 punch.

"The way me and Duke played together shows everybody that Tennessee is going to be good next season ... and this season," Chism said. "We showed everybody we can play together."

Actually, Chism and Crews AND Smith played well together vs. Texas, particularly in the second half. Crews got all 16 of his points and 6 of his 8 rebounds after intermission. Chism got 13 of his 18 points and 7 of his 8 rebounds after the break. Smith got 9 of his 16 points and 7 of his 9 assists in the second half. The energetic Vol rookies seemed to get stronger as the game wore on, whereas their Texas counterparts seemed to grow weary.

"It felt good because their guards got tired and (forward Kevin) Durant got tired," Chism noted. "But there wasn't nobody tired on our team. Everybody just kept going."

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