The 19-point setback was Bruce Pearl's worst in two-plus years as the Vols' head coach. He had beaten the Longhorns in 2005-06 at Austin (95-78) and in 2006-07 at Knoxville (111-105 in overtime). This time was different, though. This time the game was played at Texas' tempo instead of Tennessee's.
"We didn't have as much talent in the past, so we were real patient ... we controlled the tempo of the game," Pearl said on his post-game show. "Tonight we didn't."
Tennessee (5-1) played reasonably well in the first half but never managed to separate itself from the Longhorns.
"Early in the game I thought we were pretty sharp," Pearl said. "When we didn't take control of it early, that was really disappointing. We had a pretty good start but you could never tell by the score."
Up just 39-38 with 4 minutes left to intermission, the Vols fell victim to a landslide of Longhorn points. Texas (5-0) made a 12-0 run, thanks to four free throws by D.J. Augustin, two 3-pointers by A.J. Abrams and a pair of foul shots by Damion James. JaJuan Smith hit a pair of free throws to end Tennessee's drought but Texas still led 50-41 at the half. Those were the only two points of the half for Smith, who scored a career-high 32 two games ago against Middle Tennessee.
"We're going to be a bit of a streaky team, I think," Pearl said. "JaJuan Smith is going to be a real key for us. When JaJuan's got it going, we're pretty good. At the beginning of the game he had great looks – shots that normally go down for him – but they didn't tonight."
The momentum the Longhorns built going into the locker room was still with them coming out of it. Abrams and Augustin hit quick baskets as the lead swelled to 13 (54-41). Moments later, Abrams scored eight consecutive Texas points – a layup in transition, followed by three short jumpers – bumping the margin to 15 (63-48) five minutes into the second half.
The lead peaked at 22 points (77-55) with 6:20 to go. Back-to-back 3-pointers by JaJuan Smith and Chris Lofton helped Tennessee close to 15 (77-62) with 5:18 to go but the Vols could get no closer.
Lofton had 18 points and JaJuan Smith 13 for Tennessee. Tyler Smith flirted with a triple-double, contributing 11 points, 8 rebounds and 8 assists.
"It was great to see Tyler Smith come on," Pearl said. "It was good to see Tyler have a better understanding of the offense. He did a good job of breaking the defense down. He created a lot of offense for himself and he created a lot of offense for others."
Texas' overall quickness enabled the Longhorns to routinely beat Tennessee for transition baskets. As a result, the Longhorns shot a sizzling 63.6 percent from the field, including 50 percent (10 of 20) from beyond the 3-point arc. The Vols shot a chilly 38.8 percent from the field.
The Vols return to action Tuesday night, hosting North Carolina A&T at 7:30.