Tennessee’s defense has made its offense look dominant through the first week of the season.
The 10th-ranked Volunteers hope to continue that trend Sunday when they face DePaul in the semifinals of the Paradise Jam at the University of Virgin Islands Sports and Fitness Center.
One game after scoring 49 points off 29 turnovers in a 124-49 win over North Carolina-Asheville on Tuesday, Tennessee (3-0) forced 35 in a 105-66 rout of East Carolina in the opening round of the Paradise Jam on Friday.
The 35 turnovers forced by the Vols are the most in coach Bruce Pearl’s five years at Tennessee. Opponents are turning the ball over an average of 27.6 times per contest versus the Vols, who have employed an aggressive full-court press that’s been a staple of Pearl’s teams.
“Obviously when the tempo got up it was in our favor,” Pearl said. “We played with passion and intensity.”
Pearl has also benefited from a strong start by 6-foot-7 guard Scotty Hopson, who’s averaging 22.0 points and is 14 of 18 from 3-point range. The sophomore shot 10 of 15 from the field, including 4 of 5 from beyond the arc, while posting his second straight 25-point effort Friday.
“I believe every shot is going in, and that confidence helps me,” said Hopson, who averaged 9.2 points while starting 30 of 34 games last season. “I believe when I start hitting the shots it really helps in getting the team going.”
Bobby Maze added 15 points for the Vols, who shot 58.0 percent after making 59.7 percent of their shots against UNC-Asheville.
While Tennessee is shooting 55.8 percent and averaging 104.0 points through three games, it could be in for its first true test against DePaul (2-0).
After snapping an 18-game regular-season losing streak with a 59-53 victory over Columbia on Tuesday, the Blue Demons upset Northern Iowa 60-52 on Friday.
Sophomore Jeremiah Kelly recorded career highs with 18 points and eight rebounds, while Mac Koshwal added 12 with 19 rebounds as DePaul outscored the Panthers 20-6 to erase a six-point deficit in the final nine-plus minutes.
Northern Iowa, an NCAA tournament qualifier last season, is the preseason favorite to win the Missouri Valley Conference.
Koshwal, who averaged 12.2 points as a sophomore last season, had 19 and 12 boards versus Columbia, a victory he felt was almost a must-win for a team that finished 9-24 in 2008-09.
“It was so important to win our first game after what we went through last year,” Koshwal told the school’s official Web site.
This will be just the second time Tennessee and DePaul will meet. The Vols won 96-61 at home on Dec. 14, 1973, in that initial contest.
The Blue Demons will try to snap a 16-game losing streak against ranked opponents dating to an 84-76 win over then-No. 17 Villanova on Jan. 3, 2008.
The winner of this contest will face either No. 7 Purdue or Saint Joseph’s in the tournament championship game Monday night.