Wild assumptions made after listening to the game on the radio:
Tennessee came back from a nine day break for final exams, and in the first half appeared to be following a familiar formula against a mid-major team: build a decent lead, watch the other team work it back within a few possessions, and back and forth we went. The Vols led only 37-30 at halftime with a slower tempo, with MTSU staying in it behind the play of 6'7" senior forward Desmond Yates, who scored 16 in the first half.
But in the second half, Tennessee slowed Yates down just enough (he still finished with 26) to build a lead MTSU couldn't work back from, en route to an eventual 21 point win, 75-54. And again, the Vols did it with balance: the Scotty Hopson thermometer was down again tonight, as he finished with only 4 points on only 4 shots. Wayne Chism was solid (9 points, 9 boards, 2 CHI$$LE!s), and Tyler Smith was quietly the same (7 points, 4 boards, 5 assists).
With their best players scoring in single digits, the rest of the Vols more than picked up the slack: Bobby Maze scored 12, Brian Williams had 6 points and 7 boards, and the player of the game was without a doubt J.P. Prince: 17 points on 6 of 8 shooting, in a huge welcome back game, his first this season in double digits. The Vols proved tonight they can get the necessary contributions from the entire roster, even when the superstars aren't putting up superstar numbers.
Tennessee remains undefeated in what has become an annual neutral site game in Nashville, adding MTSU to the list of teams that includes Oklahoma State, Western Kentucky, and Marquette, all of whom the Vols have beaten at the Sommet Center. Bruce Pearl has repeatedly stated that he wants Tennessee to play a game in Nashville every year - this year it's also the site of the SEC Tournament - and at this pace, why not?
The Vols go to 7-1 on the year, and have six non-conference games remaining before SEC play begins in the second week of January. The competition will build from this point: the Vols host Wyoming on Tuesday night, then travel to Los Angeles to face Kevin O'Neill and Southern Cal next Saturday. The Vols may not be truly tested until the December 31-January 10 stretch that will feature a trip to Memphis (where the Tigers should come in with only one loss, by two points to #1 Kansas), a huge trap game with Charlotte, and a date with the aforementioned Jayhawks. The time for tuneups is almost over...but in lots of different places, the Vols continue to see improvement in these early games.