Eight is enough for UT

With just eight scholarship players on the roster, Tennessee is a shorthanded basketball team. Still, the Vols are in far better shape than when they had six scholarship players on the roster.

That was evident Sunday at Thompson-Boling Arena, as two players back from suspensions - Cameron Tatum and Melvin Goins - played critical roles in the Vols' 61-60 defeat of Florida.

Tatum made 3 of 4 shots, including a couple of 3-pointers, en route to 8 points. He also grabbed 5 rebounds and dished out an assist in 15 quality minutes at small forward.

Goins failed to score in 14 minutes at the point but contributed 2 assists and 3 steals while putting the clamps on Gator guards Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton. After making 70 percent (14 of 20) from 3 over the previous four games, Walker was just 1 of 6 from 3 on Sunday. He also committed 6 turnovers. Boyton was even colder, going 2 of 11 from the field and 0 of 5 from beyond the arc.

"I thought Melvin's quickness bothered 'em a little bit," Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl said. "Erving's such a great player. He's a scoring guard that's playing point guard but I thought ball pressure from Melvin bothered him a little bit."

Likewise, Pearl's decision to revamp the rotation "bothered him a little bit." The head coach hated benching Josh Bone, a walk-on from Nashville who had played reasonably well in Goins' absence.

"Josh has not had a turnover (in 109 minutes) this year," Pearl noted. "It was hard to make the change because Josh had been so solid. But I felt like you needed more against Boynton and Walker than solid. You needed somebody who was going to get up in 'em a little bit, and I thought he (Goins) did."

At 5-10 and 195 pounds, the quick-footed Goins appeared to be an even better matchup against the 5-8, 177-pound Walker than Bobby Maze, UT's 6-3, 195-pound starting point guard. Goins seemed to provide a lift each time he came off the bench.

"I thought Melvin Goins came into the game and picked us up defensively," Pearl noted. "For the first game back, Melvin really gave us a lot of energy."

So did Tatum. With Florida up 17-9 and seemingly on the verge of blowing the game open, Tatum hit back-to-back 3-pointers that helped narrow the gap to 21-17.

"Cameron kept us in the game the first half," Pearl said. "He played with confidence, looked at the basket. He only played five minutes the second half but that was because J.P. (Prince) was playing pretty effectively."

Although Tennessee played reasonably well with just six scholarship players from Jan. 1 through Jan. 16, the Vols are clearly a much more dangerous team now that Goins and Tatum are back in the rotation.

"It's helping us," senior post Wayne Chism said. "The way Melvin defended Walker ... he did a great job. Cam on defense got a couple of steals, a couple of big rebounds. On offense he hit the back-to-back 3-balls. Cam gave us a great lift."

Sophomore wing Scotty Hopson agreed that the contributions of Goins and Tatum were critical to Sunday's victory.

"It helped a lot," he said. "They give us an energy boost off the bench, and it's really helping us out as far as rebounding, getting up and down the floor and making plays is concerned."

Both Goins and Tatum were reinstated on Jan. 17 after serving four-game suspensions but neither played in the first game back (Jan. 19 at Alabama). Both played sparingly in the second game back (Jan. 23 at Georgia). Tatum played 14 minutes last Wednesday vs. Vanderbilt but Goins never left the bench.

"It's really hard to get those guys back into the flow once they were out for a while," Pearl said, "but I feel like they're back. It just takes time."

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