Vols tame Lions, 117-79

It was only an exhibition but Friday's 117-79 blowout of North Alabama was vintage Tennessee basketball ... vintage, as in 2007-08.

Returning to the blistering pace they played in Bruce Pearl's first three years but abandoned last season, the Vols pressed and ran from the opening tip to the final horn. The fans loved it. The players loved it. The head coach ... well, not so much.

As expected, the dizzying tempo produced 54 turnovers. The problem was, the Vols committed 26 of them ... just two fewer than the Div. II Lions. Pearl didn't like that statistic at all.

"We like to call it controlled chaos," he said afterward, "but I'm not so sure it wasn't chaos more than it was controlled."

Pearl was pleased that the fast pace enabled his team to get a lot of breakaway baskets, producing a 65.7 field-goal percentage. He was pleased that the Vols got great looks from 3-point range on their secondary break, hitting 58.8 percent (10 of 17) from behind the arc. He was pleased that his team forced 28 turnovers and had the Lions gasping for breath in the final minutes.

But those 26 turnovers Tennessee committed really concerned him.

"You could see what we were trying to do with fullcourt pressure and picking the tempo up and, obviously, turning North Alabama over 28 times," he said. "But we turned ourselves over 26 times. The game was too sloppy because we ourselves did not take good care of the basketball."

Pearl's 2007-08 team went 31-5 by forcing backcourt turnovers and scoring cheap baskets off the miscues. When the backcourt pressure didn't result in turnovers, the '07-08 Vols generally recovered in time to set up their halfcourt defense. Pearl wasn't happy with either level of his defense on Friday night, however.

"We didn't make enough plays upfront in pressure," he said. "And on the back of the pressure they scored way too often in 2-on-1 and 3-on-2 situations.... Considering we've got to do a better job upfront AND in the back, I don't think the press was as effective as I want it to be."

Pearl said he isn't ready to abandon the pressing, uptempo game just yet but clearly was a bit disappointed with Friday's effort. The grossly undersized and undermanned Lions shot 45.7 percent in the first half and caused Tennessee a lot of problems with their own press.

One Vol who had no problems Friday night was Scotty Hopson. The 6-7 sophomore wing hit 8 of 10 shots - 4 of 5 from behind the arc - en route to 20 points.

"I thought Scotty was more aggressive," Pearl said. "I thought he was aggressive in trying to get to the basket. And, obviously, he was playing in a little bit of a rhythm. That's the best he's shot the ball this year."

Freshmen Kenny Hall and Skylar McBee made sterling debuts. Hall, a 6-9, 220-pound post player, was 5 of 5 from the field, 4 of 4 from the foul line and grabbed a game-high 7 rebounds before fouling out with 14 points in 16 productive minutes.

"I thought Kenny Hall did a nice job for a freshman," Pearl said. "He came in and played physically, played aggressively, scored. I know he had fun out there."

McBee, a 6-2 non-scholarship guard, was 3 of 5 from the field - all from behind the arc - and 3 of 4 from the foul line en route to 12 points in 21 minutes.

"Skylar was 3 for 5 from 3," Pearl noted, "and he didn't get beat defensively any more than any of the other guards did. I thought he did good."

J.P. Prince and Renaldo Woolridge also scored 12 points each for the Vols. All-American Tyler Smith scored 11 in 15 first-half minutes, then watched the second half from the bench. Wayne Chism contributed 6 points and 5 rebounds in 13 minutes, sitting out the second half as a precautionary measure after taking a shot to the head.

The Vols also got an encouraging performance from senior point guard Bobby Maze, who registered 9 assists and just 1 turnover in 21 superior minutes.

"Bobby made good strides distributing the ball," Pearl said. "He took pride in it. North Alabama's guards were quick and they did a pretty good with their ball pressure, particularly on the wings."

Backup point guard Melvin Goins, newly recovered from minor knee surgery, committed three turnovers in nine first-half minutes but was mistake-free in six second-half minutes. He finished with 4 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 turnovers and a steal in 15 minutes.

"Melvin, a week after he's back (on the floor), he's out there playing," Pearl said. "That says a lot about his toughness."

Two Vols were unusually erratic Friday night. Cameron Tatum scored 10 points in 16 minutes but committed 6 turnovers. Brian Williams had 8 points and 4 blocks in 10 minutes but committed 5 turnovers.

Tennessee plays its final exhibition game Wednesday night, hosting Lincoln Memorial at 7:30.

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