Pearl perturbed

It was appropriate that a team called the Hogs was in town Wednesday because Tennessee's "Senior Night" basketball game at Thompson-Boling Arena was a real slopfest.

Although the 16th-ranked Vols beat Arkansas 80-73, they committed 17 turnovers - many unforced - allowing the reeling Razorbacks (losers in five of their last six outings) to keep the game much closer than it should've been.

Undaunted, Tennessee's players were laughing and celebrating in the post-game locker room until head coach Bruce Pearl interrupted the festivities to stage a major meltdown. Minutes later, as he addressed the media, the head man's mood was somber.

"How you feel a lot of times has to do with expectations," he said. "I was pleased to win the game but I was hoping that we could build on how we played Saturday (in upsetting No. 2 Kentucky), and we did not.

"We had good balance offensively and we shot a good percentage but we didn't play basketball like you need to play basketball in March."

Normally bubbly and enthusiastic, the coach was uncharacteristically subdued. Based on his tone, you would've thought Tennessee had lost the game.

"I was just hoping we could play better, and I was expecting to play better," Pearl said. "I wasn't real happy with the team after the game.... I didn't think we were particularly sharp."

No one expected the Vols to play with the same intensity and focus they showed against the Wildcats four days earlier, but Pearl clearly expected a lot more than he got on Wednesday night.

"March won't last very long if we play like that," the coach said. "This wasn't a letdown. We were ready to play. But I expect more. That play doesn't win the SEC Tournament. That play does not win a first-round NCAA Tournament game. It's March."

After a "one-and-done" in last year's NCAA Tournament, Pearl is determined to go further this year. He's convinced Wednesday night's performance would not achieve that goal.

"I'm raising the expectations at this point," he said. "The games that we won and the games that we lost - I'm fine with every one of them. But I'm not OK with the basketball I saw tonight by Tennessee."

As often happens on Senior Night, the players making their last home appearance - Wayne Chism, J.P. Prince and Bobby Maze in this case - struggled to channel their emotions.

Chism picked up two first-half fouls and got No. 3 four minutes into the second half. He wound up playing just 27 minutes.

"We was just excited in the first half," Chism said. "Either a senior wanted to get the first shot or wanted to make the nice play, and there was some unforced turnovers that we gave Arkansas. Basically, we was giving 'em all kinds of gifts for Christmas, and it's not even Christmas.

"The way we played tonight was OK but it wasn't good enough. The seniors wanted to celebrate a great win but we celebrated in the wrong way."

Prince, for example, "celebrated" with a season-high 6 turnovers.

"It was tough to focus," he said. "Did I have six turnovers? Yeah. Will that happen every night? No. I wasn't going to let that affect me on my Senior Night. We wanted to enjoy ourselves.

"There were some points where Coach was cringing because the game was close but, from the seniors' standpoint, we just had to get a win and get out of here, enjoy this night and get it over with.

"It's a tough night. You think about it all day. You're thinking, 'I don't want to do too much but I don't want to have a bad game.' I'm just happy we all got in double figures, we all had a smile on our face and we all won."

Clearly, Pearl was not so philosophical. Winning the game was not enough to please the head man. Still, Prince said the coach's post-game melt-down was no big deal.

"Was Coach upset? Yeah. But that's Coach being Coach," he said. "He can't come in there and say, 'You all played great.' Was he a little madder than I thought? Yeah, maybe. I thought he would be a little more understanding."

Because it is part celebration and part goodbye, Senior Night has a different feel than the other regular-season games. Prince thinks the upperclassmen, in particular, were affected by that.

"It's not the same as any other game," he said. "Is it a regular game? No. Did we play our best as a team? No. Did we play our best defense? No. We played sloppy at times.

"But did the seniors have fun? Did the team have fun? Did we win? Yes. That's really all that matters. Senior Night comes once a year. You want to enjoy it."

Maze also characterized Senior Night as a "fun" experience, although he understood Pearl's frustration ... up to a point.

"In the SEC it's good to win big, but I've just learned how to get the W," Maze said. "I'm satisfied with that. I understand we can play better basketball ... but we was able to get some alley-oop passes. Guys was smiling on the floor. It looked like we had fun.

"We'll get back and watch film and see some mistakes that we made but right now I'm just happy we got this win.... To me, it doesn't matter how you get the win - just get it."

Obviously, Bruce Pearl feels otherwise.


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