Bruce Pearl called it a must win. If the team wanted to stay in the running for the SEC, and if they wanted to make the NCAA Tournament, they had to beat the Gators tonight. The team got the message at the tip and took it to heart for the entire game, beating the Gators 79-63.
For one, Scotty Hopson got the message. Coming off a disappointing finish to the LSU game on Wednesday, Hopson tonight led all players with 20 points. He was 8-12 from the field and 4-6 from the three-point line, and he looked like he was having fun. He was making good decisions. He still had a couple of extraordinary clunkers, but mostly, his shot was working.
Tyler Smith got the message, too, nearly hitting a double-double with 16 points and nine rebounds. He also had four assists. He did not send Dan Werner skittering back to the bench out of extreme fear and anxiety, which was Tyler's only real negative stat.
Wayne Chism? Message received as well. Wheezy also nearly hit a double-double, contributing 12 points and nine boards. He did not hit any threes, but then again, he didn't have to.
Bobby Maze, too. Eleven points on 4-8 shooting and generally led the team well from his point guard position.
I'm sure Will or rbk or someone else will have more tomorrow (or maybe not; surprise!), but for now just enjoy the win. It was a must-win, and win we did. The Vols looked more like a well-balanced team than it has all season. The team showed what it can do when it has an outside game to complement its inside game. It showed that when it gets the message and the message is dire, it responds.
At this time, I don't even know who's up next or when the next game's played, but I do know this: Whatever and whenever it is, it's a must-win. It must be a must-win, or we just might find ourselves right back where we started.