How will UT handle success?

Despite an abundance of athleticism this season, the key for Tennessee's Basketball Vols could be between their ears.

Heading into tonight's 7 o'clock tipoff with UT-Martin at Thompson-Boling Arena, coach Bruce Pearl wants his troops to play heads-up without letting success go to their heads. That may be a difficult task, since the Vols are coming off an overwhelmingly impressive 114-75 drubbing of Chattanooga in last Saturday's season opener.

"We'll see how they react to it," Pearl said following the Game 1 romp. "I don't know how this team is going to respond. Obviously, they're happy right now. We'll see if I can get them back down. We're a team that needs to get a lot better."

If the Vols get A LOT better, the rest of the college basketball world is in trouble. Tennessee looked awfully cohesive in its opener. Pearl concedes he was surprised by that.

"A little bit," he said. "But situations didn't come up that were too terribly disruptive. They could've ... they just didn't. So I don't know how we'll handle certain things.

"We were very well prepared. If you see something different than you're expecting to see, then you get challenged."

Actually, Pearl saw one thing in the opener he wasn't expecting to see. With long-range bombers Chris Lofton and JaJuan Smith out of eligibility, he wasn't expecting the Vols to hit 11 of 29 shots from 3-point range.

"It was good to see us make 11 threes and have six guys make at least one," the coach said. "It was good to see Tyler (2 of 3 beyond the arc) shoot the ball comfortably."

The strong Game 1 showing was especially surprising in view of how chaotic Tennessee's preseason was. Wings Cameron Tatum and J.P. Prince missed significant time with injuries. Freshman point guard Daniel West was ruled ineligible by the NCAA Clearinghouse and junior wing Josh Tabb was sidelined by an academic suspension.

Pearl conceded his team had to endure "a really interesting preseason," adding: "We've had to go through so many things with injury, eligibility, suspension. It's been disruptive to get a handle on our best rotations but it also forced our hand with some freshmen getting into rotations."

Two freshmen actually started the opener. Shooting guard Scotty Hopson scored 17 points in 19 impressive minutes. Small forward Renaldo Woolridge added 6 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists and a steal in 19 minutes. Freshman post Emmanuel Negedu had a brief but action-packed evening, fouling out in just 12 minutes after contributing 3 points, 3 rebounds and an assist.

Following tonight's game with UT-Martin, Tennessee returns to action Friday night at Middle Tennessee.


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