Tennessee had just enough energy to finish off a brilliant homestand without four of its regulars, and the eighth-ranked Volunteers will get some reinforcements in time for their first SEC road trip.
Coach Bruce Pearl has reinstated two suspended players ahead of Tuesday night’s visit to Alabama as the Vols look to extend their longest winning streak of the season to seven.
Tennessee (14-2, 2-0) was short-handed for its recent four-game homestand after four of its players were involved in a New Year’s Day traffic stop that produced misdemeanor gun, drug and alcohol charges for the quartet.
Starting forward Tyler Smith was dismissed from the team and reserve center Brian Williams remains suspended, but guards Melvin Goins and Cameron Tatum returned to practice Sunday after Pearl learned more details about the incident.
“I think those guys are going to be terrific, supportive,” Pearl said. “They’re proud of their friends and their teammates, and they’ll work and they’ll get ready and they’ll stay ready.
“The rotations won’t change right away, but it will be great to have them there.”
Pearl was also thrilled after the 4-0 homestand, which included a 76-68 win over then-No. 1 Kansas on Jan. 10 and a 26-point victory over Auburn on Thursday. The Vols finished it off with a 71-69 overtime win over then-No. 21 Mississippi on Saturday.
Senior center Wayne Chism had 26 points and 12 rebounds while playing 41 minutes against the Rebels, with his coach calling him “the best player on the floor.” Chism went 6 of 6 from the free throw line in overtime to help seal the win.
“We are tired,” Pearl said. “We expended a great deal of energy the last three games in seven days. This homestand is very, very memorable. This homestand was about our program. I am proud.”
While Goins and Tatum may not play Tuesday, Tennessee could certainly use some help from the duo after it was left with six scholarship players. Goins and Tatum have combined to average 14.8 points this season.
“It will be a big boost,” Chism said. “We’ll have two more defensive players coming back on the team, and they love playing defense. We’ve got a lot more weapons coming back.”
The Vols will be trying to extend their longest winning streak since they won nine in a row Jan. 26-Feb.23, 2008, and they’ll also be hoping to deal Alabama a third straight defeat.
The Crimson Tide (11-6, 1-2) opened their SEC season in impressive fashion with a 66-49 win at LSU on Jan. 9, but they lost 65-64 at home to Vanderbilt on Wednesday before a 71-59 defeat at Arkansas on Saturday.
Alabama was outmuscled by the Razorbacks, getting outrebounded 40-27 and attempting just eight free throws - its lowest in that category in an SEC game since Feb. 21, 2006, at Arkansas.
“Over the course of the game, I thought (Arkansas’) toughness and character really showed itself,” first-year coach Anthony Grant told Alabama’s official athletics Web site. “We did not meet the challenge the way we needed to meet the challenge collectively and individually.”
Tennessee ended the Tide’s 2008-09 season in lopsided fashion with an 86-62 win in the SEC tournament quarterfinals March 13 after Alabama had won 70-67 in Knoxville five days earlier.
The Vols won 93-86 on Jan. 29, 2008, in their most recent visit to Tuscaloosa.