Nov. 10, 2006
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl's voice was hoarse, and he looked relieved after the No. 25 Volunteers' first game of the season.
That's what a young team will do to a coach.
Pearl's second team at Tennessee looks very different from a year ago when the Vols won the Southeastern Conference East division and went to the NCAA tournament as a No. 2 seed. The youngest team Pearl ever has coached features five freshmen playing key positions including point guard and center.
"I've been coaching 15 years. I knew less going into this year because of how young we were, how new we were and how little the exhibition season helped us," Pearl said. "But I thought we played hard."
Tennessee built a lead in the first half and expanded it to 22 three minutes after halftime on a basket credited to Dane Bradshaw on a goaltending call. Middle Tennessee could not make much of a dent in the lead afterward and scored only four points in the final five minutes.
"That was a good win for us tonight, a good way to start the season. I was concerned playing an in-state opponent and basically allowing them the summer to get ready for us," Pearl said.
Both teams were sloppy with turnovers and fouls. The Blue Raiders had nine team fouls early in the first half, and Tennessee's best shooter Chris Lofton picked up his fourth foul less than a minute into the second half. Both teams attempted 25 foul shots.
"He wasn't treated like an All-American out there," Pearl said of Lofton.
Pearl used two different freshmen at point guard, a position open with the graduation of four-year starter C.J. Watson. Two freshmen played in the post, replacing Major Wingate, who was dismissed from the team.
"This is exciting. This is my first year. I've been waiting for this for a long time, to play college ball," said Tabb, who subbed for Lofton most of the game.
The Vols' starting point guard, Ramar Smith, had two points and two assists. Lofton had six points.
"We ask so much of them, and they're going to continue to grow," Bradshaw said of the freshmen. "But I'm very impressed with them and their maturity out there on the court in a big-time stage like this."
Middle Tennessee was breaking in seven newcomers and was missing its top returning scorer, Adam Vogelsberg, who broke his right foot during practice earlier this month. The senior guard averaged 12.4 points and is considered one of the Sun Belt Conference's best players.
The Raiders were led by Kevin Kanaskie with 13 points, while Calvin O'Neil and Tim Blue each added 11.
"I just did not think we had a very good feel offensively, and you've got to give Tennessee credit for that," Middle Tennessee coach Kermit Davis said. "Tennessee was just a better, more physical team than we were."
Tennessee led early in the first half after a 10-2 run. The Raiders tied it at 12 but never took the lead. The Vols used an 8-0 run after the tie.
Duke Crews had a dunk that stretched the lead to 11 with 6:05 left before halftime to get the crowd excited.
JaJuan Smith, who scored 14 of his points in the first half, followed a few minutes later with a steal and reverse dunk. He left the game with 6:18 remaining with a cramp in his left leg.