By the end of the day on Sunday, 49 teams will have been eliminated from the NCAA Tournament, but Tennessee will play on.
J.P Prince led Tennessee with 18 points and Scotty Hopson added 17 as the Vols ran away with an 83-68 victory over Ohio on Saturday, sending the Vols to their third Sweet 16 appearance under Bruce Pearl.
While Prince led the team in scoring, he credited Bobby Maze for leading the team in assists (9).
“I didn’t have a hard job just to lay the ball up,” Prince said. “Really all the credit goes to him, breaking the press and making those guards work.”
Bruce Pearl continues to push the right buttons, getting production from unexpected contributors. Last game, it was Melvin Goins playing more minutes than most anticipated and knocking down a clutch 3-point shot that put the Vols up four points with 19 seconds to play.
Against Ohio, Pearl’s strategy was to utilize Josh Bone.
“I hadn’t played Josh Bone in ten games and I just felt like we needed another defender — another tough guy out there,” Pearl said. “And he responded”.
Bone finished with seven points, four rebounds, and an assist.
But it wasn’t just Bone. Tennessee had five players score off the bench.
“It’s part of the reason why you develop a bench, so that you can have this kind of balance and you can put your team in position for different guys to be able to step up on different nights,” Pearl said. “One guy doesn’t have to carry this team. And you look at the balance and the shots that were taken and the minutes that were played and I thought that’s part of the reason we were able to wear them down.”
Tennessee’s defense was a big factor in the game. More specifically, it was the Vols’ ball-screen defense — something the coaching staff worked hard on over the summer.
“We go back to that same thing with my staff going to Denver and talking to George Karl and his staff this summer, learning how to guard the ball screen like they do in the NBA,” Pearl said.
“Bottom line is we weren’t going to let those guards beat us. We just were not going to let those kids get to the ball screens, turn the corners, (and) reverse the floor. (We) kept them on one side of the floor and took our chances.”
Tennessee will next play on Friday night in St. Louis, MO against the winer of today’s matchup between Maryland and Michigan State (2:30 p.m. CBS).
Chism gets another chance
Wayne Chism has been to Sweet 16’s before and he will have one last chance to help lead Tennessee where it has never been before.
“It’s pretty big,” said Chism. “I’ve been there twice already and I came up short twice so I’m just really happy to be back there on that stage again. I just can’t wait to get there and be prepared to play the next team.”
Bruce Pearl also understands the historical significance of Tennessee’s next game.
“One more would get us to someplace we’ve not been, and that would be to the Elite 8,” Pearl said. “So certainly the team has got great motivation to try and accomplish that.”
“We’ve got to continue to defend and rebound, continue to make enough shots on the perimeter to keep folks honest, and see if we can get to the next round.”
On Tatum’s twirling 3-point bomb as the shot clock expired
“We run that play, but not necessarily for that shot,” Pearl said. “We get him the ball in a last second situation so heck, he knows it’s coming. So he flashed back and… what a great shot. That was a huge lift for us because they were making a little bit of a mini-run and that shut them down.”