Money player

Three times in the first half of Sunday's game with Mississippi State, Tennessee freshman Duke Crews maneuvered his way inside for a basket and drew a foul. Each time, however, he missed the ensuing free throw.

So, when he went back to the foul line with 27.5 seconds left in the game and the Vols clinging to a scant 88-84 lead, the pressure on him was enormous.

"Those last two was big," he recalled. "There was like 24 seconds left on the clock and we're up four, so I'm like, ‘My God, I've got to make these."

He did, finishing with a career-high 18 points and helping Tennessee finish with a 92-84 win.

Crews drained 6 of 6 foul shots in the second half, including the clutch pair in the final 30 seconds. That represented quite a comeback for a guy who went 0-for-3 in the first half.

"I knew at halftime I had to make an adjustment," he said. "I knew what I was doing wrong. I wasn't shooting at the top of my shot. I was releasing the ball too late. I went to one of the coaches and asked him. He straightened it out for me."

Perhaps Crews' biggest play of the day also involved a free throw. Dane Bradshaw hit the first of two foul shots to pull Tennessee within 67-65, then missed the second try. Crews won the battle for the rebound, then passed to JaJuan Smith, whose 3-pointer completed a four-point possession that gave the Vols a 68-67 lead.

Crews finished the afternoon with five offensive rebounds, bringing a big smile from his head coach.

"Duke Crews has done this before; we saw it in the Texas game," Bruce Pearl said. "He provides that energy and athleticism to make special plays and get big rebounds. He's got to improve defensively and on his defensive rebounding but clearly (on the offensive board) he was a load."

Crews suggests that was by necessity. He says the action under the backboards was a lot rougher vs. Mississippi State than against the non-conference foes UT faced earlier.

"It was a lot more physical," he said. "The referees let a lot of pushing and holding go. It benefited both teams because they let a lot of petty stuff go that they normally would call early in the year. But it was so physical that you get tired faster."

Crews, a rugged 6-7, 233-pounder, will face a lot of big, physical players now that Southeastern Conference play has begun. He believes he's ready for the challenge.

"I can't be a freshman no more. I'm done with that," he said. "I've got to go out there and play, whether I'm a freshman, sophomore, junior, senior, whatever. I know there's a lot of good big men (in the SEC). Whew! It's going to be fun playing against them. It's just something where you have to buckle down and prepare for each game as it comes."

A highly emotional player, Crews seems to feed off a big bucket or a crucial defensive play. Sunday, for instance, he muscled his way through traffic to score back-to-back buckets shortly before halftime.

"When Duke has these runs, don't be surprised by them," Pearl said. "I expect them. He expects them."


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