After slowing things down last season, Tennessee appears ready to get back to coach Bruce Pearl’s preferred up-tempo style of play.
The 10th-ranked Volunteers look to give Pearl his 100th victory at the school when they host North Carolina-Asheville on Tuesday night.
During a rebuilding 2008-09, Pearl took a slower approach to the game instead of his customary fast, full-court pressure style. Despite the transition, the Volunteers went 21-13 and won the SEC East Division before losing to Oklahoma State in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
With nine letterwinners, including all five starters back, the Vols seem prepared to increase the tempo on both ends of the floor with those players accounting for 95.4 percent of the scoring from last season.
“We’ve just got to stay consistent,” sophomore Cameron Tatum said. “We’re a very unselfish program, and I think we’re starting to get a grasp on that. Once it all comes together like we’re supposed to, it’s going to be special.”
After averaging 78.4 points per game in 2008-09, Tennessee cruised to a 83-54 season-opening victory over Austin Peay on Friday.
Scotty Hopson scored 16 points, Tatum had 15 off the bench and senior Tyler Smith added 14 with 11 rebounds as the Vols shook off a sluggish first half by shooting 53.8 percent and outrebounding the Governors 27-15 after the break.
Tennessee forced 19 turnovers while improving to 5-0 in season openers under Pearl.
“When we have an opportunity to force teams into turnovers and get the game going to a fast tempo, that’s the way we love to play,” Hopson told the team’s official Web site.
If the Vols can improve to 7-0 all-time against UNC-Asheville, they’ll give Pearl another milestone in the process. Pearl earned his 400th career coaching win in Tennessee’s 87-69 victory over the Bulldogs last Dec. 3.
Smith became the first player in school history to record a triple-double with 12 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists in that contest.
Pearl was happy with Friday’s effort from Smith, a 6-foot-7 forward who averaged a career-high 17.4 points last season.
“We got great leadership from Tyler Smith. He made great energy,” Pearl said. “I was really, really pleased with his effort, his effectiveness, his leadership, his attitude.”
Picked to finish second in the Big South, Asheville will be in for a huge challenge as it tries to bounce back from an 86-70 season-opening loss at Charlotte on Friday.
“Tennessee is very good,” Asheville coach Eddie Biedenbach told the team’s official Web site. “They’re very athletic and can beat you in a lot of different ways. We’re going to have to play at our absolute best to compete with a team like Tennessee Tuesday night.”
Chris Stephenson scored a career-high 22 points off the bench and J.P. Primm added 15 on Friday for the Bulldogs, who shot 43.3 percent and were outrebounded 53-35.
“We battled the whole game but didn’t play smart at times and it cost us,” Biedenbach said. “But we can and will get better.”
Part of what is considered one of the Big South’s top backcourts, Stephenson and Primm combined for 10 points and shot 4 of 18 against Tennessee last season, when they were both freshmen.