Feb. 14, 2009
|Player of the Game: Tyler Smith|
By: Josh Battle
Tyler Smith earned Player of the Game honors today, turning out a career-high 30-point performance against Vanderbilt at Thompson-Bowling Arena. The 6-foot-7 junior forward from Pulaski, Tenn. topped his previous personal best of 28 points, a mark he reached versus Toledo while playing at Iowa in 2006.
Smith opened UT's scoring with a quick 3-point shot, one of his three for the game to set a quick scoring tone for the Vols on offense. His efforts helped the Vols route SEC East rival Vanderbilt 69-50, giving Tennessee a regular-season sweep of the Commodores. According to Smith, it was in warm ups before the game when he felt he could turn out a special performance.
"In pre-game, I missed only four shots," Smith said. "Coming out and getting those early shots and really feeling good in warm-ups was big for me. I was just hoping to carry that feeling over to the 3 o'clock tip-off."
Smith ended the evening 10-of-13 from the floor with five rebounds, three assists and four steals. He was also clutch from the free-throw line, going 7-of-8 from the stripe.
"I just felt like every shot was going to go in," Smith added. "When a player feels that way, feels confident about their shot; you feel that any shot is going to go in."
The significance of Smith's career-performance was not lost on head coach Bruce Pearl, especially on an evening when Tennessee honored its' Basketball All-Century Team during halftime, a ceremony that highlights the season-long centennial celebration for men's basketball in Knoxville.
"It's the way All-American's play," Pearl said of Smith's game. "It's stepping up in a big ball game. I'm proud of Tyler and it's really neat that he did it right here in front of the lettermen."
While the sweep of division rival Vanderbilt makes a statement about the 2008-09 basketball season, the statement Smith and the Vols hoped to make today was one of appreciation.
"We wanted to say thank you to all the players that where here at the ceremony," Smith said. "To Bernard King, Allan Houston, Dane Bradshaw, Chris Lofton and all the others. It was great to honor those past players with a great game against Vanderbilt."
Without doubt, Smith's performance tonight was one that each player who has ever worn orange and white would be proud of.
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl told Tyler Smith and J.P. Prince they'd have to be better leaders if the Volunteers wanted to overcome a sloppy January to make a run at the SEC title.
They finally proved to Pearl they were listening.
Smith scored a career-high 30 points, and Prince grabbed 10 rebounds and dished seven assists as Tennessee routed rival Vanderbilt 69-50 on Saturday.
"Me and J.P. have been hanging out a lot more off the court -- before coach even came to us with that," Smith said. "I think that's carrying onto the court."
The win kept Tennessee (16-8, 7-3 Southeastern Conference) in a three-way tie with South Carolina and Kentucky for first in the SEC East.
Vanderbilt (15-9, 4-6) had been on a three-game winning streak after opening the SEC schedule 1-5.
"Vanderbilt right now, given how many games they have left, might not be playing for a championship, but they will have a lot to say in who wins the championship," Pearl said.
After splitting the series for the past two seasons, the Volunteers grabbed a sweep over the Commodores. Tennessee dominated the first game of the season in the series, a 76-63 win in Nashville.
Both teams entered the game on hot shooting streaks. The Vols shot 50.2 percent from the floor in their previous four games while the Commodores were averaging 51.8 percent in their last four.
On Saturday, Vandy shot 38.8 percent from the floor for the game while Tennessee sank 45.5 percent of its shots.
"I did not think we competed at the level we normally are used to our guys competing," Vandy coach Kevin Stallings said. "I thought we, for the first time, did not really fight like we normally fight, and that was disappointing."
After five lead changes and a tie at the beginning of the first half, it was Tennessee that heated up first. Down by a point, the Vols launched a 14-0 run, and an Emmanuel Negedu dunk gave them a 19-6 lead with 10:34 before halftime.
Vanderbilt got a couple of easy layups en route to an 8-0 run. A jumper by Brad Tinsley cut the Vols' lead to 21-16 with 5:06 left in the half.
Tennessee sank three free throws to take a 26-18 lead into halftime.
A Josh Tabb dunk with 12:12 left gave Tennessee a 20-point lead, it's largest of the game, and the Vols' margin never dipped below 13 points.
Smith, Tennessee's leading scorer with an average 17.2 points per game, beat his previous best of 28 points set his freshman year while playing for Iowa against Toledo on Nov. 17, 2006. J.P. Prince grabbed 10 rebounds.
"At Iowa there was only two players that was really scoring," Smith said. "With this team, we've got so many different players that can do so much, it never crossed my mind -- I wasn't trying to go out there and get a new career high."
Tinsley and A.J. Ogilvy both scored 11 points for Vanderbilt.
After averaging only 12.3 turnovers in their last four games, the Commodores committed 23 against the Vols, who turned them into 21 points.
Tennessee had allowed an average 76.3 points per game through Jan. 17 but has held opponents to an average 63.4 points in the last eight contests.
"Tennessee did a nice job playing defense on us," said Vandy guard Jermaine Beal, who was limited to 3 points and committed five turnovers. "We did a poor job of taking care of the ball."