Coming off one of the biggest blowouts in school history, Tennessee could hardly have more confidence going into this weekend’s Paradise Jam.
The 10th-ranked Volunteers will do their best to replicate the 75-point victory in their most recent game as they face East Carolina in the tournament’s first round Friday night in the Virgin Islands.
Tennessee (2-0) set at least two school records in Tuesday’s 124-49 win over North Carolina-Asheville, racking up more points and more assists (34) than any previous team. The margin of victory was the program’s second-biggest, trailing only a 79-point win over the University of Mexico in 1966.
“I like the chemistry. I like the way they’re sharing the ball,” Vols coach Bruce Pearl said. “I like the fact that they’re able to see what they’re capable of doing if they apply themselves.”
Guard Scotty Hopson led the way with a career-high 25 points in just 23 minutes for Tennessee. The 6-foot-7 sophomore is 10 of 13 from 3-point range in the season’s first two games, setting a positive tone for the highly touted recruit’s second season.
“I think now guys know when to be in a position to shoot it, and of course I know,” Hopson said. “Whenever (teammates) Bobby (Maze), J.P. (Prince), Tyler (Smith) create a drive, draw, dish opportunity, I’m going to be ready to knock it down for them.”
Maze added 14 points and team-high seven assists as 13 different players recorded points for the Vols, who beat Austin Peay 83-54 in their season opener last Friday.
Much of Tennessee’s offense came off its defense, as the team went with a full-court press and scored 49 points off 29 Asheville turnovers. The Bulldogs managed only two field goals and 14 points in the first half.
“We want to build on this,” Pearl said. “We held our (Austin Peay) to 34 percent (shooting). We held this opponent to 24 percent, which is unrealistic to think we can continue that. We just want to try and build on it.”
Defense was not the Vols’ strong suit last season, when they ranked 234th nationally and 10th in the SEC in field goal percentage defense, allowing opponents to shoot 44.3 percent.
But they shouldn’t have many problems shutting down East Carolina, which lost 89-58 to Wake Forest on Sunday in its first neutral-site game against a big-name opponent.
The Pirates (1-2) were plagued by 20 turnovers in a 74-68 defeat at Campbell on Tuesday - a statistic that does not bode well going into the matchup with the Vols. They’ve lost 16 straight against ranked teams and both previous matchups with Tennessee in 1978 and 1991.
East Carolina, which has one senior and six freshmen on its roster, is led by junior guard Brock Young, who is averaging 16.0 points and 4.7 assists.
If Tennessee wins, it would advance to play either DePaul or Northern Iowa on Sunday in the tournament’s semifinals. The loser of this game plays again Saturday.