Tennessee men's basketball Head Coach Bruce Pearl addressed members of the media as part of his weekly media luncheon at Pratt Pavilion Monday afternoon.
Pearl touched on the Volunteers' performance in the initial two rounds of the NCAA tournament, as well as the upcoming Sweet Sixteen matchup with the No.2 seed Ohio State Buckeyes (29-7).
"We're really glad to be back home and really glad to be leaving Wednesday," Pearl said. "Last weekend went just how the rest of the season has gone, different guys at different times stepping up and making plays."
One of the most notable, if not surprising contributions came from walk-on guard Josh Bone. The junior from Nashville, Tenn. scored five points to go along with four rebounds and one assist in 10 minutes of play against Ohio.
Prior to the game versus the Bobcats, Bone had played a measly 116 minutes throughout the whole season, the third least on the roster.
"We talked about playing him [Bone] after I watched Ohio," Pearl said. "What we've done all year long is go to the bench and all year long the bench has responded. In spite of the fact that he hadn't played, I decided to go with him."
Isn't it the truth? Since the January 1 arrest and ensuing suspension/expulsion of four scholarship players, Pearl dug deep into his bench to go 17-6 after Saturday's contest.
The Buckeyes are a different story all together. Head Coach Thad Matta has mostly relied on a solid six-player block to handle business on the court, which includes junior Evan Turner, a 6-foot-7 guard who averages over 20 points per game.
"Ohio State is as good as advertised," Pearl said. "They don't play a lot of guys, they play six guys. They got great chemistry and they know how to win."
The job of containing Turner will fall on the shoulders of J.P. Prince, who has performed exceptionally in the tournament thus far, averaging 16.5 points per game.
"This is the arguably the best player in the country," Pearl said. "Like most of our defensive work, you can't guard a guy like that with one player. Yet, there will be times when J.P. will be matched up with him and he's going to have to stop him one-on-one."
"They've all been put in more game-winning or losing situations," Pearl said. "You don't have the unpredictability of a Melvin Goins doing what he did to beat San Diego State, but at the same time it can develop some great chemistry with those six guys on the floor."
Performances such as the one displayed on Thursday by Melvin Goins, one of the four players arrested in January, have been the bread and butter of a Tennessee squad where any player could explode at any time.
The diversity of starting rosters [Pearl has rotated nine different starting five this season] has made the Volunteers into a chameleon of a team that can be difficult for teams to prepare for.
Over the season, the Buckeyes have shown a fondness for the full-court press similar to the style the 2007 Tennessee squad ran against Ohio State in a losing attempt in the Sweet Sixteen three years ago.
"Ohio State's going to press us, even with a short bench," Pearl said. "We're going to have to do a good job of advancing the ball down the floor and making them pay. I think there's not one way to play us. There's not a specific game plan where we have a specific weakness."
In the 2007 contest in San Antonio, the Buckeyes came out of halftime down 20 points and immediately attacked Tennessee in the paint, earning more than 28 trips to the foul line, which in the end proved costly for the Volunteers.
"Ohio State got to the rim and the foul line [in 2007]," Pearl said. "I don't need to worry about saying this, because I know it's going to be the case. Thad [Matta] is going to get those guys to put the ball down the floor and go to the rim. We have to stop them without fouling them. How many free throws did Ohio State shoot in the second half of that game? Twenty-eight or twenty-nine…pretty tough. In the second half."
The Volunteers will have a regular practice at Pratt Pavilion Monday afternoon.
The team departs Knoxville for St. Louis, Mo. on Wednesday afternoon for their Friday night matchup with Ohio State, which is slated for a 7:07 p.m. EST tip-off.