Go-to guy

Go-to guy

One Tennessee freshman is establishing himself as a "go-to guy," even when the Vols don't go to him by design.

Tobias Harris scored a game-high 21 points in Tuesday's 86-56 drubbing of Middle Tennessee, despite the fact that head coach Bruce Pearl called almost no plays aimed at getting shots for the 6-9 freshman.

"We did absolutely nothing specifically to get him the ball ... a couple of little looks," Pearl said. "He just knows how to play, knows how to get himself open."

These knacks were especially evident at the start of the second half. With the Vols up 46-23 at the break, the tendency would be to relax and allow Middle Tennessee to creep back into the game. Tobias Harris was having none of that, however.

After the Blue Raiders opened the second half with a 6-2 spurt, the Vols' silky-smooth power forward scored eight consecutive UT points. He banked home a six-footer, drained a pair of free throws, maneuvered inside for a layup, then added two more free throws. With Harris single-handedly outscoring Middle 8-2, the lead swelled to 25 points (56-31) five minutes into the second half.

Asked if he is becoming more comfortable asserting himself offensively when the Vols need someone to take charge, Harris nodded.

"Yes," he said. "I just wanted to stay aggressive and play my game."

Summarizing "his game" is no simple task. Harris does a bit of everything. Against Middle, for instance, he produced 21 points, 6 rebounds (4 off the offensive glass), 3 assists, 3 steals and a blocked shot. He also nailed both 3-point tries he launched.

"Tobias stuffs a stat sheet," Pearl said, subsequently noting: "He did a good job on the offensive boards. I still want Tobias to continue to learn how to play better defensively."

Harris says stuffing a stat sheet is his goal each time he steps on the floor.

"I think that's my game," he said. "Doing everything - making plays for other guys, grabbing rebounds, just doing anything to help our team win."

Some freshman struggle to identify and fit into a role once they arrive in college. Tennessee's gifted Jordan McRae is a prime example. Harris, on the other hand, seems to have recognized and embraced his role in short order. He concedes as much, noting: "I think I've made the most progress in terms of just finding my niche, doing what I do best - score the basketball and make plays."

Harris isn't the only Vol making plays these days. Almost all of the starters and key reserves are providing valuable contributions. That's why Tennessee was able to shock No. 6 Villanova 78-68 a week ago in New York City, sending the Vols soaring to No. 13 in the Associated Press national poll. That rousing success probably made getting up for Middle Tennessee a little more of a challenge.

"I don't think it was too much of a challenge," Harris said. "As a team we just came out and accomplished what we wanted to accomplish - getting a great win in front of our home crowd and just moving forward."

The Vols should keep moving forward as long as their young power forward continues growing and improving.

"I've just got to keep working hard, keep staying focused, keep staying in the gym," Harris said. "I think that'll all pay off."

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