One day after a big win over an in-state rival, Tennessee was hit with news of the arrests of four players.
As fast as the mood changed in Knoxville, the 16th-ranked Volunteers hope their season doesn’t fall apart just as quickly.
With four players suspended, including second-leading scorer Tyler Smith, Tennessee tries to regroup in its final game before jumping into the iron of its schedule when it hosts Charlotte on Wednesday.
The Volunteers (10-2) ended the calendar year on a high note after defeating Memphis 66-59 last Thursday. The following day, Smith, sophomore guard Cameron Tatum, junior center Brian Williams and junior point guard Melvin Goins were arrested on misdemeanor drug, gun and alcohol charges stemming from a traffic stop.
“I am deeply saddened and troubled by today’s news,” coach Bruce Pearl said Friday. “I am indefinitely suspending Melvin, Tyler, Cameron and Brian from all team activities until we have more information about (Friday’s) incident. I apologize for the embarrassment this has caused to our university.”
According to a police report, after officers pulled over the car Tatum was driving for speeding, they smelled marijuana. An inspection found two guns - one with an altered serial number - a bag of marijuana and an open container of alcohol.
Knoxville police said they are analyzing the gun for fingerprints and will try to determine the guns’ history and ownership. They also will turn the information over to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to review for possible federal violations.
The decision to suspend the four players leaves Tennessee with six scholarship players and without one of their most potent offensive forces. Smith averages a team-high 26.8 minutes per game, along with 11.7 points and 4.7 rebounds. He also leads the team with 44 assists.
Tatum has started six games, and is averaging 8.7 points in 19.6 minutes. Goins averages 6.1 points and 2.2 rebounds in 16.3 minutes, while Williams plays an average of 16.7 minutes, contributing 5.4 points and 5.6 rebounds.
Renaldo Woolridge will start in Smith’s place. The sophomore has played 90 minutes over 11 games, averaging 3.5 points and 2.4 rebounds.
“I don’t know how good we are right now,” Pearl said. “I know how good we are in practice, and I’ll learn a lot about this group Wednesday night. And then, of course, we’ll be facing the challenges ahead.”
Assuming the suspensions aren’t lifted, the Volunteers will definitely feel the absences as their schedule grows more demanding. They host top-ranked Kansas on Sunday, then open SEC play against Auburn next week.
Tennessee athletic director Mike Hamilton, who said his tolerance for athletes involved in criminal activity “has gone to zero,” said he and Pearl have yet to decide what those players’ futures will be with the program.
“Indefinite suspension, what does that mean,” Hamilton said. “For me it means we start at dismissal and work our way backward. It doesn’t mean we start at one game and work our way forward. We’ll see where it goes from there.”
The remaining Volunteers must focus on beating Charlotte (10-3), which has won the last three meetings with Tennessee to even the all-time series at four games apiece.
The 49ers are coming off a 76-67 loss to Georgia Tech on Saturday. They shot 37.3 percent - the third time in four games they were held below 40-percent shooting - and got outrebounded 41-31.
Sophomore guard Derrio Green scored 31 points, establishing a new career high for the second straight game. Green, who averages 11.4, had 23 points in a Dec. 29 win over Mercer.
Green may have some trouble against Tennessee’s defense, which has held three of its last five opponents to fewer than 60 points.
This is the first meeting between Tennessee and Charlotte since a 70-63 49ers victory in 2001.