Vols explode in opener

Apparently, scoring points isn't going to be nearly as difficult for the 2008 Tennessee basketball team as it has been for the 2008 Tennessee football team ...

That's probably because the Basketball Vols are a lot better at passing the ball. A sellout crowd of 21,864 roared its approval as the Big Orange dished out a school-record 32 assists and annihilated Chattanooga 114-75 Saturday night at Thompson-Boling Arena in the regular-season opener.

"Our pressure was disruptive and we obviously shared the ball tremendously," head coach Bruce Pearl said.

This was a Moccasin team that returned most of the key players from a 2007 squad that pushed the Vols to the limit before bowing 76-70, so no one could have foreseen a 39-point blowout.

"That's a team that will win their league and have a chance to make it to the (NCAA) Tournament," said point guard Bobby Maze, a junior college transfer making his regular-season debut for the Vols. "But we came out today with a (high) level of intensity.

"And the crowd ..." he added, shaking his head in awe. "I mean, I wouldn't have expected that for the first home game but they had a lot to do with that game. Seeing that many people, and the energy in that stadium was amazing."

Several Vol teammates were impressed by the turnout, as well. Growing up in a basketball hotbed like Hopkinsville, Ky., freshman Scotty Hopson is no stranger to large, animated crowds. He just never played in front of one quite as large and animated as Saturday night's.

"A lot of guys told me it was going to be a packed house and it was going to be crazy tonight," he said, smiling softly. "So it was mostly what I expected. It was cool."

Meanwhile, the Vols were hot ... red hot. They hit 61.1 percent of their shots en route to a 60-37 halftime lead.

"We was amped. We was ready," redshirt freshman Cameron Tatum said. "This was the first game, and we've been waiting for it all year. We're trying to protect history here – the home winning streak (32 games) – and we wanted to make sure we got on 'em early."

The Vols didn't cool down a whole lot after intermission. They cracked the century mark with 8:09 to play when a thunderous Tatum dunk widened the gap to 100-55.

The Big Orange finished the game shooting 58.9 percent, including a sizzling 74.4 percent (32 of 43) on two-point baskets. Most of these came on slashing drives and putbacks as Tennessee outscored its visitor by a mind-numbing 62-16 in the paint.

Basically, the game was competitive for 10 minutes. When back-to-back 3-pointers by Ty Patterson and Stephen McDowell whittled a 29-16 lead to 29-22 with 9:56 left to halftime, Pearl called timeout.

"Coach said, 'Now we have adversity, so we've got to battle back from it,'" Hopson recalled. "Coming out of that timeout, we really battled back from that adversity."

Indeed. Hopson hit a 3 from the left wing at the 9:30 mark and Tyler Smith added another trey 11 seconds later. Smith then stole the ensuing inbounds pass and fed Maze, who slithered through traffic for a three-point play to complete a 9-0 spurt that required just 33 seconds and boosted the lead to 38-22.

It was all downhill from there.

Tennessee's balance was downright scary. Forward Tyler Smith led the Vols in points (21) and steals (3) and was second in assists (5). Post Wayne Chism contributed a double-double in points (14) and rebounds (13). Point guard Maze contributed a double-double in points (12) and assists (10).

The wings did OK, too. Tatum (6 of 8 from the floor, 19 points), Hopson (7 of 11, 17 points) and J.P. Prince (7 of 10, 14 points) combined to score 50 points on 20-of-29 shooting.

"You have to like the balance," Pearl said. "You have to like the chemistry."

McDowell scored 20 and Nicchaeus Doaks 16 for the Moccasins, who shot a respectable 45.5 percent from the floor but committed 24 turnovers and lost the backboards 42-30.

"Chattanooga did not play well," Pearl noted. "We may have had something to do with that."

Probably so.

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