Vols press on, win 124-61

The 2007-08 basketball season hasn't even officially started but Tennessee's fullcourt press already is in midseason form.

The Vols provided a glimpse of it in their Monday night exhibition game against Lincoln Memorial. The fans couldn't believe it. The Railsplitters couldn't handle it.

Tennessee went to the press after Tyler Smith scored on a transition dunk with 6:32 left in the first half. The Vols immediately made a backcourt steal, leading to a Ramar Smith dunk at the 6:21 mark. They intercepted the ensuing inbounds pass, leading to a Cameron Tatum layup at 6:11. Tennessee intercepted the next inbounds pass, as well, this time producing a Tyler Smith dunk at the 5:56 mark.

Four steals – three of them in backcourt – enabled the Vols to score eight points in a span of 36 seconds, bumping their lead to 57-23. It was 72-30 at the half, and Tennessee coasted home from there, ultimately winning 124-61.

All-American Chris Lofton didn't participate in the 36-second defensive explosion but he enjoyed it nonetheless.

"I wasn't in at that time," he said, grinning sheepishly, "but it looked good from the bench."

The addition of 6-7 Iowa transfer Tyler Smith and 6-6 freshman Cameron Tatum has given Tennessee's press a lot more length and quickness than it had in years past.

"We're really deep," Lofton said. "We've got a lot of athletes on this team that can run and jump. That makes them perfect for the press."

Tyler Smith certainly looks like a perfect fit in the press. He flashed a big smile when asked about it following Monday night's game.

"It's great," he said. "It goes back to Coach (Bruce Pearl). He wants you to go balls-to-the-wall for two or three minutes – all the defense you can give – and then he brings a sub in."

Pearl has a big man – usually 6-10 Brian Williams or 6-9 Wayne Chism – guarding the inbounds pass. That limits the inbounders' vision and usually forces him to throw the ball into a corner.

"We try to put our biggest man up there, with everybody else face-guarding," Tyler Smith said. "That's what we've been working on since Day 1 (of practice). It's a fun style to play but sometimes you can get tired out in those three minutes you're supposed to play. But Coach has brought in a lot of great talent, so there's plenty of players waiting to step in and play."

That's obvious from the box score. For the second game in a row Tennessee had seven players score in double figures. Ryan Childress, who started at power forward, led the Vols in both points (19) and rebounds (8). Tyler Smith added 17 points and Ramar Smith 16 (with 8 assists and 0 turnovers). JaJuan Smith chipped in 13 points, Tatum 12, Lofton 11 and Chism 10.

Chism, who missed the previous exhibition game due to a concussion, was the only Vol on the floor more than 19 minutes. He played 22.

Tennessee came out red-hot, hitting 30 of 45 first-half field-goal attempts. If you discount a 5-of-15 shooting performance from 3-point range, the Vols were 25 of 30 in the first half, a sizzling 83.3 percent.

Tyler Smith finished 8 of 9 from the floor. Childress was 8 of 11, Chism 5 of 7 and Ramar Smith 6 of 9. As a team, the Vols shot 63.6 percent from the floor, in spite of a chilly 29.2 percent (7 of 24) effort from beyond the arc. They forced 31 turnovers and outrebounded the Railsplitters 50-36.

As a Div. II program, LMU obviously lacks the athletes to provide the kind of challenge Tennessee will face when the regular season begins.

"It's hard to know how much has been accomplished in the preseason," Pearl conceded, adding that he viewed the LMU game "a conditioning workout to try and learn some things."

One thing he learned is that the Vols need work on their free-throw shooting. They sank a mere 55.9 percent (19 of 34) from the foul line, taking "a big step back" in the words of their coach.

Tennessee opens the season for real Friday night, hosting Temple at 7:30.

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