Healthy Prince hurts foes

In two seasons with the Tennessee Vols, J.P. Prince seems to have spent more time in the training room than in the lineup. When he isn't hurting, though, he's putting a hurting on opponents.

"We joke about it a lot – how he's always being hurt," teammate Josh Tabb said earlier this year. "But we're just messing around with him. It's good to have J.P. back. He's long, he can defend, he can score. He can do a lot for this team."

Prince exhibited as much Thursday night at South Carolina, sparking an 86-70 win that clinched at least a tie for the SEC East title. He was 8 of 12 from the field, 1 of 1 from beyond the arc and 3 of 3 from the foul line en route to a season-high 20 points. He grabbed a team-high 9 rebounds (5 off the offensive glass). He also contributed 2 assists, a blocked shot and a steal in 31 productive minutes.

Although shoulder surgery caused him to miss both of UT's preseason games, Prince recovered in time to register double-figure point totals in each of the first seven regular-season games. A severe ankle injury sidelined him for the next three games but he has bounced back to produce nine double-digit outings in the 19 games since.

"J.P. has courageously fought through injuries," head coach Bruce Pearl noted.

Prince's return has been advantageous, as well as courageous. His contributions are so valuable that Pearl once called him "my second-best player behind Tyler Smith." Told of the comment earlier this year, Prince shrugged.

"It don't matter who's the best player," he said. "Me, Tyler and Wayne (Chism) just need to bring it every night, be consistent. That's the key to this team."

Prince has been remarkably consistent, especially since conference play began.

After hitting 50.5 percent of his shots in non-conference play, he is shooting a sizzling 63.3 percent in 15 league games. He's also rebounding better against SEC foes (4.3 per game) than he did against non-league foes (3.8 per game).

Prince's greatest struggle – other than with injuries – has been with his 3-point shot. He missed his first seven attempts this season before connecting in Game 6 against Georgetown. He missed nine in a row over the next 23 games and stood 1 of 17 (a frigid 5.9-percent success rate) heading into Thursday's showdown at Columbia. He ended the drought with a clutch trey during a 25-7 second-half run that sealed the Gamecocks' doom.

Prince's greatest asset is his versatility. The 6-foot-8 junior leads the team in field-goal percentage (56.8) and steals (37), ranks second in blocks (18), third in points (9.9 per game), rebounds (4.1 per game) and assists (81).

Son of former Jackson State head man John Prince, J.P. exhibits the savvy you expect from a coach's son. He is particularly adept at breaking down a defense with dribble-drives and pinpoint passes.

"I provide another penetrator to help Tyler out – penetrate, take the pressure off of him," Prince said earlier this year. "I have experience. I've been in tough environments, played in tough games before. And I have an understanding of the game. Mentally, I know I can outsmart a lot of opponents – making backdoor cuts, leaking out on the break and things like that."

These attributes are sure to make J.P. Prince one key Vol during March Madness.

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