Tennessee just DISMANTLED the #3 team in the nation on what was essentially their home court a day after learning a player they were counting on and practicing around wasn't going to be available. Ho hum. Just another day in the life of Bruce Pearl and the Tennessee Volunteers.
Don't let the score fool you. After Pitt scored the first basket, it was All Vols. For the first eight minutes or so, it was a kind of stealthy ravaging. Up one. Up three. Up six. Eight. And then, with a little over twelve minutes to play in the first half you suddenly noticed that Tennessee was simply having its way with the Panthers and that it wasn't a fluke. They were just beating them like it was what they were designed to do. And it looked almost effortless.
The Vols went to the locker room for the break hitting 57.7% from the field and a stellar 75% from the arc. On the other end, Tennessee was holding Pitt to 32.1% and 14.3% in the same categories. Not even the unbalanced foul-calling could undo the orange, as Pitt had nearly seven times more opportunities at the free throw line (13 to 2) but hit under half of them.
Surely the percentages would even out in the second half, right? Eh. Only a little. Tennessee cooled down to 56.3% and 63.6%, and Pitt warmed up to 40.7% and 41.2%, but the Vols still clearly had the edge the entire time. Sure, there was a period during which everyone in the gym seemed to lose interest, a time when Jay Bilas stopped calling the game to go on a three-minute rant about how everybody was wrong about The Bruce Pearl Thing (favorite line from Sean McDonough: "The media is sometimes wrong, but never in doubt."), and Pitt threatened to make a game of it, closing the gap to nine points, but the good guys shook off the sleepies, got back to work, and never relinquished a fairly comfortable lead, not even when the game entered a time warp in the last two minutes, with every second seeming to take 60. (Yay for run on sentences!)
Nope. The Vols just kept their poise, re-flamed their passion, and re-focused on their purpose. This team is hell-bent on going, again, where no Tennessee team has ever gone before.
Game balls go to Scotty Hopson, who is indeed looking like the guy we've been telling ourselves about for three seasons now -- the guy with the moves and the drive and the shooter's touch to boot -- and Melvin Goins -- the little guy with big muscles on bigger muscles -- who presses the buttons and makes things hum. Hopson had 27 points on 10-13 shooting and was 3-3 from 3 and 4-5 from free. Goins had 19 and pretty much had his way with Ashton Gibbs until it really didn't matter much anymore.
It wasn't perfect. Pitt discovered a bit too late that Tennessee has fairly significant trouble handling full court pressure. But they did get it figured out, and they were able to maintain the lead despite a few misfires under duress.
But yeah, forget the score. This wasn't a seven point game. It was all orange, all the time.
If Pitt really is the best team on Tennessee's regular schedule, then strap in, folks, because this season's going to be fun.