Tyler takes hint, hits boards

Usually, basketball is all about offense and defense. Sometimes, though, it's about cause and effect.

For instance, the University of Tennessee sports information office recently sent an email to media outlets featuring an interview with head basketball coach Bruce Pearl. Included was a jab at Tyler Smith.

"His rebounding has not been where I expected it to be," Pearl said. "He replaced Dane Bradshaw at the four spot and has not gotten more rebounds than Dane."

Hint ... hint.

One night later Smith grabbed 12 rebounds – most by a UT player all season – in a 93-59 defeat of North Carolina A&T.

Reminded of the coach's comments after the game, Smith smiled broadly.

"He's been telling me that the whole year," the 6-7, 215-pound sophomore said. "I think I wasn't being physical enough, as far as getting in there to rebound. Now I know that's what he wants me to do, so I have to do it."

In addition to his 12 rebounds, Smith scored 17 points on 7-of-7 shooting from the field.

"I was getting open shots and trying to get it when I had it," he said.

Like Tennessee, North Carolina A&T plays a high-speed, high-energy brand of basketball that creates a lot of transition opportunities. This fits Tyler Smith's skills to a T.

"Oh, yeah, I love this type of game," he said. "Coach Pearl is great with that kind of offense. It lifts up our defense, too."

Tennessee won its first five games before running into a Texas buzz-saw and losing 97-78 to the Longhorns in the finals of the Legends Classic. In addition to a dose of humility, the loss gave the Vols some perspective.

"Coach said it was just what we needed," Smith said. "I think we thought at the time we were untouchable, as far as losing. I don't think we approached that game the way we were supposed to."

Now that the Vols have tasted defeat, they understand a little better the value of teamwork.

"It's going to bring us together as a team," Smith said. "We realize we can lose any night, so we've got to play well."

A first-year transfer from Iowa, Smith wasn't much of a factor in Tennessee's early games. He has improved dramatically the past few games, however, and appears to be hitting his stride.

"I'm just trying to attack more physically," he said. "I'm doing what Coach wants me to do – just assert myself."

Still, Smith is falling short of Pearl's expectations. After recording 8 assists in Game 6 vs. Texas, Smith recorded just 2 assists in Game 7 vs. North Carolina A&T.

Pearl conceded that Smith gave a "terrific, terrific performance" against the Aggies, but added: "Tyler's double-double is more what I expect, except maybe with a few more assists."

Hint ... hint.

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