The towering quintet should've dominated the Div. II Greyhounds. It didn't. In fact, it was seriously outclassed, allowing Indy to race to an 11-2 lead. That stuck in the craw of Bruce Pearl, even though Tennessee rallied to win 87-73.
Asked his assessment of the big lineup, the head coach frowned.
"I didn't like it," he said. "I know size matters but I didn't like it.
"I didn't like it because that group didn't defend. Indianapolis started the second half 5 for 6 from the field and they started the first half 11-2. They made 5 of their 6 shots to start off the second half against that group and they started off the first half 11-2, so I'm upset about it."
Basically, Tennessee made one spurt that won the game. Down 25-24 with seven minutes left in the first half, the Vols went on a 16-3 run that produced a 40-28 lead.
Tennessee expanded the lead to 46-31 by halftime and went up by 21 (78-57) on a nifty drive by Maze with 6:16 left. But four baskets by Tristan Rogers, who led Indy with 16 points, helped narrow the gap to 84-73 and give the Greyhounds a chance to cut the lead to single digits in the final 80 seconds.
Ultimately, it was a ragged performance by the Vols, even for an opener.
"I'm not pleased but it was about what I suspected it would look like," Pearl said, noting that "There were a lot of new faces out there."
Some of those new faces played fairly well, however. Hopson debuted with 14 points, 2 assists and a steal. Fellow freshman Emmanuel Negedu contributed 11 points and 6 rebounds – five of them coming off the offensive glass. Maze, a junior college transfer, added 10 points, 7 assists and a steal.
Tennessee also got decent games from Smith (14 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals), Chism (12 points, 4 rebounds, 2 steals) and Williams (12 rebounds, 2 blocked shots).
The absence of 2007-08 guards Chris Lofton and JaJuan Smith was clearly felt, however, as Tennessee made just 4 of 14 shots from 3-point range. On a positive note, the Vols won the backboards 40-29, forced 28 turnovers and shot 57.1 percent in the second half.
Still, Tennessee's performance left a lot to be desired against a Div. II opponent. The visitors shot 48.1 percent from the floor and were never really out of the game.
Noting the absences of Tabb, Prince and West, Pearl said "That's not necessarily the team we're going to put on the floor in a few weeks but there's cause for some concern."
Foremost among these were the second-half defensive play (when Indianapolis shot 56.7 percent) and the 20 UT turnovers.
"We were just not taking care of the basketball," Pearl said, "We turned the ball over 20 times, and I don't think a lot of those turnovers were forced."