Red-hot Vol

A flu-type virus and the Vanderbilt Commodores had something in common last week: Neither could stop Tennessee's star player.

After battling flu-like symptoms for four days, Tyler Smith's temperature subsided last Saturday morning. By tipoff of the Vols' game with Vandy, however, he was red-hot again ... but only in the metaphorical sense.

Playing perhaps his best game as a Volunteer, Smith scored a career-high 30 points in Tennessee's 69-50 romp. He hit 10 of 13 shots from the field, 3 of 4 from beyond the arc and 7 of 8 from the foul line. In his spare time he contributed 5 rebounds, 4 steals and 3 assists.

UT head coach Bruce Pearl waited until this week to reveal that Smith had to beat a strength-sapping virus before he could help beat the Commodores.

"Tyler battled the flu all week long," Pearl explained, adding that the Vol junior suffered through "four or five days of a terrific head cold."

Smith was so congested last Wednesday, in fact, that his coach said "It was hard to run against Georgia."

By Saturday morning, however, Smith had conquered the virus and was ready to conquer the Commodores. Strange as it sounds, the virus may have contributed to his strong play against Vandy.

"Sometimes when you come back off of not feeling well, the day after you feel great because you've just gotten through feeling so badly," Pearl said. "I think he got a real jump-start on his energy level."

The flu wasn't the only factor in Smith's sterling play on Saturday, however. Teammate J.P. Prince played a key role, too. Like Smith, Prince is 6-7 and versatile enough to hurt an opponent in a lot of ways. He proved as much vs. the Commodores, finishing with 8 points, 10 rebounds, 7 assists, 3 blocks and 3 steals.

"Vanderbilt really didn't have a guy to guard him (Smith) with J.P on the floor," Pearl said, noting that Vandy's Jeffery Taylor "would've been a natural to guard him but you can't put Taylor on him and one of the big kids on J.P. The fact those two guys were out there playing well – playing well off of one another – made them both tough matchups."

Smith's 3-point shooting has been a bit cold this season but even that aspect of his game was red-hot on Saturday.

"The fact he was 3 for 4 from 3 kind of helped get him going," Pearl said. "And he made some tough 2s. There's not a lot of guys that can make tough 2-point baskets, and those are the ones you need to make to complement the rest of your offensive game."

The fact Tennessee chose the day of Vanderbilt's visit to commemorate 100 years of Vol basketball probably contributed a bit to Tyler Smith's big day, as well.

"I do think there's something about playing Vanderbilt," Pearl said. "I do think there's something about the rivalry. I do think there's something about Tyler responding to the lettermen that were there.

"And being from (Pulaski) Tennessee – from close to Nashville – I thought Tyler was super ready."

Ready to play at fever pitch, in fact.

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