Nov. 14, 2006
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - JaJuan Smith is adapting quite nicely to starting instead of coming off the bench for the Tennessee Volunteers.
Smith, the Vols' sixth man last season, scored a career-high 21 points, and No. 25 Tennessee beat UNC-Wilmington 87-75 Tuesday night in the South Region championship of the NIT Season Tip-off.
Coach Bruce Pearl called the junior guard very unselfish.
"I'm actually going to ... work a little bit now on getting a few more looks for him and finding some ways for him to get more shots on the other side of the floor because he wants it," Pearl said.
Smith was 7-of-10 from the floor, including 3-of-5 from 3-point range. He took advantage of the Seahawks (1-1) focusing on Chris Lofton. Smith also came up with four rebounds and five steals in 27 minutes.
"He's a pretty good option," UNC Wilmington coach Benny Moss said. "Whether it be Option B or 1A, he's obviously a very good option. But he killed us tonight."
With the victory, Tennessee improved to 3-0 for a second straight season and will play Butler on Nov. 22 in the semifinals at New York.
"We're going to be playing in Madison Square Garden, and we're going to be taking that Tennessee orange onto that floor," Pearl said.
The Vols, a young team starting two freshmen and playing four more, showed they can play the pressure-packed, stingy defense Pearl wants. They forced UNC Wilmington into 32 turnovers, with 13 coming off steals as the Vols pushed the tempo.
"That's incredible," Pearl said. "That talks about our effort and what we do."
They didn't trail in the second half and led by as much as 83-62 on a three-point play by freshman Wayne Chism with 4:11 left.
The Vols played on the same court where they will take on Oklahoma State on Dec. 18.
Chris Lofton, who missed five of his first six shots, finished with 17 points for Tennessee. Reserve Ryan Childress had 14 and Duke Crews had 13. Smith said he's going to have to look to score more with opponents working to slow down Lofton.
"Chris is one of the best shooters in the nation. A lot of people are going to be keying on Chris. I'm trying to bring some attention on the other side of the court," Smith said.
Ramar Smith, Tennessee's freshman point guard, had been questionable after hurting an ankle in Monday night's win over Fordham. X-rays were negative, but he had been on crutches Monday night. He started and scored eight points in 22 minutes.
The Seahawks, playing their second game under Moss, were missing senior guard T.J. Carter, out after having groin surgery on Nov. 1.
They shot well, hitting 53.1 percent (26-of-49), but that wasn't enough to overcome the turnovers. Moss said they practice breaking the press in each practice.
"You can't simulate what Tennessee did," Moss said.
And the Seahawks struggled when Moss had to bench Temi Soyebo after he picked up his fourth foul. Moss said he made a mistake leaving Soyebo in after picking up his third foul 29 seconds into the second half. Soybeo picked up his fourth less than a minute later.
"I think he handled the pressure that Tennessee put on us. Without him, it was a different team, a different game.
Montez Downey and Darryl Felder each scored 15 for the Seahawks, Vladimir Kuljanin added 14, Todd Hendley had 13 and Soyebo 10.