Tennessee leads the SEC in numerous major offensive categories, but that’s not enough for coach Bruce Pearl.
Pearl is looking for even more offense from his ninth-ranked Volunteers on Friday night when they meet Middle Tennessee at the Nashville Arena.
Tennessee (6-1) leads the conference in points (86.4), shooting percentage (50.8) and 3-point shooting percentage (43.8). Pearl believes that his club needs to play at an even faster tempo with the grueling SEC schedule upcoming.
“It’s not been as up as I’d like,” Pearl said. “The one good thing is we’ve been able to win games playing slower as well as playing faster.”
The Volunteers have had plenty of time off since a 78-66 victory over East Tennessee State on Dec. 2. Their coach believes they have not been practicing as well since returning home after falling to then-No. 6 Purdue on Nov. 23 in the championship of the Paradise Jam in the Virgin Islands.
“I did feel like prior to going to the Virgin Islands we had great practices, very intense practices, knowing what was ahead,” Pearl said.
Pearl met with Tennessee’s four seniors before Monday’s practice, instructing them to push their teammates to play hard and fast, regardless of the quality of the opposition.
“Your senior season is important, it’s your last season, and we all realize that,” senior point guard Bobby Maze said. “But coach was making sure to remind us of that, that we need to lay everything on the line. He let us know that we need to show that leadership on and off the floor.”
The Volunteers have won seven straight over Middle Tennessee (3-5), winning 76-66 last season. Tyler Smith led four Tennessee players in double figures with 18 points and Maze added 12.
The Blue Raiders lost three players who started in that game, but last season’s leading scorer Desmond Yates is back. Yates, who missed the first seven games with a knee injury, scored 20 before fouling out in his season debut Tuesday in an 83-71 home loss to Belmont.
The 6-foot-7 Yates had eight points and five fouls in 19 minutes last season against Tennessee - one of four games in which he failed to score in double figures in 2008-09. Yates has fouled out five times in his last eight games for Middle Tennessee, which allowed Belmont to shoot 59.6 percent.
“You just can’t let a team come into your building and shoot 59 percent,” coach Kermit Davis said. “Their two freshman guards dictated tempo and made plays when they had to.”
Middle Tennessee freshman James Gallman scored 18 in 22 minutes off the bench Tuesday. Gallman is a Knoxville native who played with the Volunteers’ Wayne Chism and Renaldo Woolridge in a 2009 summer league.
Tennessee is 6-1 all-time under Pearl at the Nashville Arena, where the 2010 SEC tournament will be held.