Besides a solid victory to carry into a week-long holiday break, the Vols also got the type of balanced performance they will need to succeed in the SEC. Five Tennessee players recorded double-figures, paced by Ron Slay's double-double of 22 points,10 rebounds. Slay, who connected on 6-of-12 from the field and 8-of-9 foul-line, also dished off a career high six assists. Crump contributed 14 points for the second straight game, while senior guards Jon Higgins and Thaydeus Holden added 12 points each. Freshman point guard C .J. Watson had 10 points and a game-high seven assists.
Overall, Tennessee shot 52 percent from the field (29-of-55) and held Western Carolina to 36 percent (19-of-54). The Volunteers also held a commanding 41-to-24 advantage on the boards.
Head Coach Buzz Peterson seemed pleased with his team's performance during an interview that aired over the Vol Network, although he was concerned about the 19 turnovers Tennessee committed and the impact it had on its consistency. For example: After the Vols jumped to a nine-point lead to open the game, they fell behind by three points before building the cushion back to nine at intermission.
"The spurts were caused by too many turnovers in the first half" Peterson said. "We had 11 and Ron and Brandon had six or seven of those in the perimeter area. We've got to do a better job taking care of the ball."
Slay agreed with his coach's appraisal, offering the following observation: "We've got to improve our turnovers. If we made 11 turnovers in the first half against Kentucky we would probably be down by 20."
The Vols took better care of the ball in the second half while picking up the tempo. Watson, who had six turnovers to go with his seven assists, was often outstanding in the open court and penetrated effectively in the half-court game. The end result was good distribution and better offensive production.
"We got more assists in the second half, five guys in double figures," Peterson said, "I was pleased with that. We've really had better shot selection since the Texas A&M game."
Peterson also praised sophomore Derek Stribling for "giving us a lift" with his defense. Stribling drew the Catamounts' leading scorer Kevin Martin (16 points) for much of the game and he was held to seven points below his average. Elgrace Wilborn performed well off the bench, contributing excellent low-post defense and five rebounds in 15 minutes of play. Seven-foot freshman center Boomer Herndon had a shining moment in the show, when he came off the bench in the final minutes to grab an offensive board and nail a jump hook from the baseline.
The Vols return to game action next Monday against UT Martin at Thompson-Boling Arena.