Speaking on his post-game show, UT coach Bruce Pearl called the outing "a great basketball game against a very unique opponent."
The Vols, now 30-4, play again Sunday at 1:30 CDT against No. 7 seed Butler, which improved to 30-3 by beating South Alabama on Friday.
With hot-shooting Garrison Carr hitting 8 of his first 16 field goal tries (6 of 13 from 3), American trailed just 50-49 with 5:56 to play. Carr was running on fumes down the stretch, however, making just 1 of his last 5 shots.
While Carr was stalling, Tennessee's Wayne Chism was shifting into high gear. The 6-9, 243-pound sophomore hit a 3 from the top of the key as Tennessee went up 57-51. He added a free throw moments later, then scored a huge three-point play that widened the gap to 10 points (63-53) with 1:51 remaining. The Vols then sealed the win by hitting 9 of 12 free throws.
JaJuan Smith scored 19 points to pace Tennessee, while Chism chipped in 16 points (14 in the second half) and 7 rebounds. Tyler Smith showed his versatility with 14 points, 7 rebounds and 6 assists. All-American Chris Lofton had an off day, going 1 of 7 from the field and 0 of 5 from 3 en route to 5 points.
Carr finished with 26 points to pace American, which bows out 21-12. He was pretty much the whole show for the Eagles, draining 9 of 21 shots from the floor and 6 of 15 from beyond the arc.
Pearl called American "a good ball-control club ... a club that did a great job getting the ball to their shooter."
Brian Gilmore added 13 points for the Eagles, who thrashed Tennessee 39-27 on the backboards but committed 22 costly turnovers.
"We did a great job of turning them over," Pearl said. "At the same time, we turned the ball over ourselves way too often. Most of our turnovers were unforced turnovers. We didn't value our possessions enough. As a result, offensively, we were disrupted."
Indeed. The Vols finished the afternoon with more turnovers (14) than assists (13). Tennessee was particularly sloppy before intermission.
"In the first half we didn't value the ball," Pearl said. "We turned it over at a time when we probably would've stretched out the lead to more than seven (29-22) at halftime."
Chism gave the Vols a significant advantage in size and athleticism on the inside, but Tennessee took a long time to exploit it. As a result, Chism scored just 2 first-half points.
"The key to me," Pearl said, "was we turned it over before I had a chance to get the sucker inside."
VOLS GO BIG AT THE POINT
Pearl unveiled a new look – a big look – at the point-guard position against American. Ramar Smith, who had started 14 of UT's previous 15 games and 17 for the season, sat out the entire first half.
Senior Jordan Howell started and played 10 minutes in the first half. J.P. Prince, a 6-7 sophomore who normally plays wing, got the other 10 first-half minutes at the lead-guard spot. Prince started the second half at the point. Ramar Smith didn't see action until 3½ minutes were gone in the second half.
"I was trying to shake the position up," Pearl said. "I've not been happy with our point-guard play. I just thought we needed more from the position. We worked J.P. Prince all week at point guard, and I thought he did OK.
"He turned it over a couple of times but he got himself to the foul line (where he was 6 for 8). I've got to find a way to get J.P. on the floor more."
Prince finished with 8 points and might get the starting nod at the point for Sunday's game.
"Right now," Pearl said, "the way Jordan and Ramar are playing, they don't deserve 40 minutes at the position."