After a ragged performance against North Alabama last Friday, the Vols showed considerably more polish in trouncing Lincoln Memorial University 97-58 Wednesday night at Thompson-Boling Arena.
The Vols committed 17 turnovers vs. the Railsplitters, down from 26 in their previous outing. And they limited LMU to 33.3 percent shooting, a significant improvement over the 40.6 percent they allowed the Lions to shoot five days earlier.
Head coach Bruce Pearl conceded that the progress from last week to this was quite significant.
"There were some areas we wanted to try to improve on tonight, and I thought we did," he said. "I thought we were better defensively. I thought we rebounded better - keeping them off the boards. I thought we handled the ball better ourselves and we forced them into 30 turnovers."
Tennessee shot just 45.5 percent - down from 65.7 vs. North Alabama - but that didn't concern Pearl at all.
"I knew we wouldn't shoot as well because they (Railsplitters) are a better defensive team," he said. "I thought that early on we settled for some decent shots instead of trying to get great shots, and I thought we missed some shots around the basket.
"But this was a little better test for us tonight."
Indeed. Tennessee led just 34-22 with 6:25 left in the half, then Tyler Smith scored on a dunk and a scoop shot to spark an 11-0 run that widened the gap to 45-22. It was 53-31 at the break, then the Vols put the game away with a 15-5 spurt to open the second half, building a 68-36 lead with 13:44 to go.
Despite playing just 20 minutes, sophomore guard Scotty Hopson posted a team-high 20 points for the second game in a row. He was 7 of 9 from the field, including 2 of 3 from behind the arc. The only negative: 0 assists and 3 turnovers.
"Scotty looks very, very comfortable offensively, scoring the basketball," Pearl said. "He's got to continue to stay strong with the ball and he's got to be mindful of his assist/turnover ratio. He doesn't have to be a big-time passer but he needs to be mindful of not turning the ball over."
Wayne Chism and Tyler Smith chipped in 11 points each, with Chism also grabbing a team-high 8 rebounds.
Freshmen Kenny Hall and Skylar McBee were impressive again, contributing 9 points each. Hall also grabbed 5 rebounds in his 11-minute relief stint. McBee, 3 of 7 from behind the arc, contributed 4 rebounds, an assist, a steal and a blocked shot in 19 solid minutes.
"Skylar continues to be a steady performer, in addition to making 3s," Pearl said. "He defends, he rebounds his position, he doesn't turn it over. He's just solid. And then he's a real threat out there (behind the arc).
"And you could see Kenny's ability to score with his back to the basket. You could see he's an effective player that's going to be a terrific player."
Junior college transfer Melvin Goins - back from minor surgery on his knee - started at the point, providing 5 assists and some air-tight perimeter defense. He also committed 3 turnovers in his 12 floor minutes, however.
"I think fatigue was a little bit of a factor for Melvin," Pearl said. "Melvin put a lot of effort in defensively, and definitely showed at times what he can do defensively. He really picked us up at the start of the second half."
Bobby Maze, last year's starting point guard, registered 8 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 steals in 24 minutes. He also committed 3 turnovers.
Tennessee opens the regular season Nov. 13, hosting Austin Peay in a 9 o'clock tipoff.