After a slow first half of basketball, the Vols proceeded to pound the Tusculum Pioneers in the second half, going on to win 100-57 Friday night.
A first half that saw JaJuan Smith score the first eight points of the game was tight all the way through. The Pioneers gave the Vols all they could handle as the first half ended with the Vols ahead 36-27.
The second half saw a different Tennessee team as second year coach Bruce Pearl had the Vols pour on a full-court press to break the game open.
“We had a good defensive team last year because we had some veterans,” Pearl said. “Our drop back defense will improve as the season goes on.”
Pearl opened the game with a starting line-up consisting of two freshmen, forward Wayne Chism and guard Ramar Smith.
Both added strong contributions as Chism poured in 12 points, 5 rebounds and 2 blocks, while Smith added 11 points and 8 assists.
The Vols ability to create offense out of defense allowed them to open up the court as the Vols outscored the Pioneers 64-30 in the second half.
Pearl relied on veterans Chris Lofton, JaJuan Smith and Dane Bradshaw to keep control of the game. Smith led all scorers with 21 points, and Lofton tacked on 10 points shooting two of four from behind the arc in limited action.
“Chris passed up a lot of shots that I thought he could have easily put in the basket,” Pearl said.
One aspect of the game the Vols struggled in was free-throw shooting. The Vols finished the game shooting an abysmal 28 percent from the line. Freshman forwards Duke Crews and Chism were a combined 3 of 11 from the foul line.
“With the size both Duke and Wayne possess, they are going to get fouled. We need them to step up and make their free-throws,” Pearl said.
Pearl made it a point to give credit to a much-improved Ryan Childress. Childress provided valuable minutes, as he contributed 11 points and 9 rebounds.
Point guard C.J. Watson’s loss forces the combo of guards, Marques Johnson and Ramar Smith, to immediately contribute. Alongside Smith’s 11 points, Johnson added a solid 13 minutes with four points, three rebounds and three assists.
The Vols now have two exhibition games under their belt and prepare for the season opener on Friday against Middle Tennessee State at 7:30 p.m.