Speaking on his post-game show, head coach Bruce Pearl conceded that Tennessee's commitment to defense is much greater than it was a year ago.
"It is," he said. "There's a few things you can control in a basketball game, and one of them is tempo. By extending defensively and playing aggressively, you put yourself in position to where you can wear down opponents and get them to sort of succumb to you."
"They're going to want to play in the 50s," Pearl said. "DePaul only had eight turnovers today. They're going to hold the ball and do everything they can to not shoot it, so the game doesn't get like this ... which is how we like to play."
Routinely scoring in transition off ECU mistakes, Tennessee hit 57.9 percent (40 of 69) from the floor and 54.2 percent (13 of 24) from beyond the arc. The Vols also were on target from the foul line, hitting 12 of 14 tries. Despite setting a frantic pace, Tennessee committed just 13 turnovers.
The Pirates shot a solid 52.6 percent (20 of 38) from the floor and 36.8 (7 of 19) from 3 but were doomed by their 35 turnovers.
Scotty Hopson continued his torrid shooting, hitting 10 of 15 from the floor and 4 of 5 from 3 en route to a game-high 25 points. Bobby Maze chipped in 15 points, Cameron Tatum 14, Tyler Smith 13 and Melvin Goins 10.
"Tonight we went up against a dominating point guard that they do a lot of ball-screen work for ... and we just wore his little butt out," Pearl said. "I thought the team is really buying in to that piranha-style of defense."
Tennessee was sluggish early and trailed 19-13 nine minutes into the game. The Vols went on a 19-1 explosion at this point, however, to take control.
Hopson opened the spurt with a 3-pointer and a putback that trimmed the deficit to 19-18. Tatum sandwiched two three-point plays around a Hopson backcourt steal and layup, putting the Vols on top 26-20.
Following two Smith buckets, Hopson slammed home a dunk off a Goins lob as Tennessee pulled in front 32-20.
Down 43-27 at intermission, ECU narrowed the gap to 12 (51-39) with a spurt at the start of the second half. Hopson hit a 3 to break the momentum, however, igniting a 15-2 run that pushed the lead to 25 points (66-41) and ended the suspense.
Goins got the Vols to the century mark with a basket that swelled the lead to 100-57 with 3:15 left.