Making like Tyler

Tennessee didn't have suspended superstar Tyler Smith Wednesday night against Charlotte but the Vols had the next-best thing ... a Tyler Smith impersonator.

Senior post Wayne Chism did a pretty good impression, too, stuffing the stat sheet with 18 points, 6 assists, 5 steals, 5 rebounds and 3 blocks as the Vols posted an 88-71 victory.

"I felt like I was Tyler Smith out there," Chism said, only half-joking. "I did a good job with 6 assists and 3 turnovers and 5 steals. I think I did a great job but my guys was wide open. They (49ers) doubled me, so I had a chance to kick the ball out to 'em and they made shots."

Making Chism's linescore even more impressive was the fact he recorded more assists Wednesday night (6) than he had in the first 12 games combined (4). He also recorded half as many steals Wednesday night (5) as he had in the previous 12 games combined (10).

"I surprised myself when I was across the column like that," he admitted. "I think I did a great job of dishing the ball out to my teammates that was open. And I played great defense because they had a nice post player in Spears."

Chism did a terrific job on Charlotte's Shamari Spears, all right, limiting him to 1-of-8 shooting and blocking two of his attempts.

After noting that the 49ers have "two very good big men," Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl added that "Wayne clearly established himself as the best big man on the floor."

In addition to offense and defense, Chism provided leadership Wednesday night. He carried the team early, scoring 16 points in the game's first 16 minutes.

"I felt a good responsibility to get off to a hot start," he said. "When I got off to a hot start, my team did a good job of feeding off my energy and we did a great job in the first half."

Chism also helped steady the team when Charlotte used a 21-2 explosion to whittle a 54-29 second-half deficit to 56-50.

"We panicked for a minute," he said, "but the panic went away faster than any time we ever had a panic on this team."

The New Year's Day arrest of Smith and three other Vols in a car featuring two handguns, marijuana and open liquor made national headlines and made some Vol fans mad enough to stay home Wednesday night. Winning back those fans won't be easy but Wednesday's victory was a start.

"We had a lot to prove," Chism said. "There's a lot of stuff on our shoulders right now. We've got to play through all of the toughness. Whatever's going on with our team, we've got to play through it."

For the most part, Tennessee did just that vs. Charlotte, despite a short-handed roster.

"It was good because we came together," Chism said. "I had a lot of young guys out there but they stepped up big-time, and I thank them for that.... They did a great job playing through all of it. When it was tough, they kept their heads up and kept playing like we (veterans) did. They're learning a lot from us."

They'll learn even more if they'll watch the big guy doing the Tyler Smith impersonation.

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