"I had to challenge the team," the Vol coach said on post-game radio. "I knew it was going to be a street fight, and I knew both teams were going to be playing very physically, very aggressively. I thought it was very, very important that our guys man up and understand that there was going to be blood on the floor.
"I thought they responded pretty well. We were the more physical team today."
That was evident in the final stats. Tennessee outrebounded the Tigers 42-26, forced 16 turnovers and limited Memphis to 31.4-percent shooting from the field.
The 14th-ranked Vols (10-2) struggled to make shots, too, hitting just 35.8 percent from the floor and 15.4 percent (2 of 13) from 3. And, like Memphis, Tennessee committed 16 turnovers. But the Vols showed a degree of toughness - mental and physical - down the stretch that was not evident in some earlier outings.
"We're trying to carve out an identity for ourselves," Pearl said, noting that defense and rebounding "was what we talked about in the game plan. We had the advantage on the inside ... so we really focused on going inside."
That strategy paid huge dividends. Post Wayne Chism hit 5 of 7 shots en route to a team-high 15 points and 9 rebounds. Backup Brian Williams made just 1 of 5 shots but produced 8 rebounds and 2 blocks.
Memphis native J.P. Prince contributed 12 points, 5 rebounds and 3 assists. Forward Tyler Smith - seeing probably 10 minutes of action at the point - added 11 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals.
With Smith moving to the point, Tennessee made a 10-1 spurt that turned a 6-12 deficit into a 16-13 lead. The Vols expanded the margin to 31-24 at the half.
Memphis pulled within 33-29 early in the second half but Prince scored on a drive and three free throws to spark a 9-0 burst that put Tennessee on top 42-29 with 16:04 left. The Tigers closed to 53-48 with 5:12 to play but Smith hit a pair of free throws, then assisted Chism for a layup that slowed the comeback. Melvin Goins hit 4 of 6 free throws, Prince 3 of 4 and Smith 2 of 2 down the stretch to seal the deal.
Tennessee, which used stingy defense to beat Memphis 66-62 at FedExForum in 2008, was even stingier on defense in its first trip back to the venue.
Tennessee limited the Tigers to just seven 2-point baskets and nine 3s, a feat Pearl called "terrific."
Duke transfer Elliot Williams, who came in averaging 20.7 points per game, was held to a season-low 13 points. He was 11 of 12 from the foul line but just 1 of 7 from the field, scoring his only basket with 20 seconds left and the outcome no longer in doubt.
Doneal Mack hit 4 of 9 shots from 3 and led Memphis with 15 points. Williams chipped in 13. Wesley Witherspoon added 11 points but hit just 4 of 11 shots.
"We knew it was about not letting those guards beat us," Pearl said. "We left Mack a couple of times because he's a really good shooter. But we won the battle of the paint. And defense and rebounding are the way you win on the road."