Nov. 19, 2006
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Tennessee's young team is getting better, and the No. 25 Volunteers will find out how much this week.
With help from 19 points by Chris Lofton, Tennessee beat Coppin State 99-65 on Sunday and started looking toward a trip to New York for the NIT Season Tip-Off.
The Vols (4-0) built a double-digit lead in the first half and expanded it after halftime in a fast-paced, sometimes frantic, game.
Tennessee overcame turnover problems by taking the ball away from the Eagles (0-3) and forcing them into bad shots. Tennessee hassled the Eagles into 24 turnovers, many off their press and several from five-second violations. The Vols had 22 turnovers but 12 steals and 29 assists.
"One of the things we wanted to do was handle the ball better and we worked real hard this week at making the extra pass," coach Bruce Pearl said. "It's preseason and we're young. When we play better teams, you'll see we're young. ... I'm pleased with our progress, but there is so much learning that needs to take place."
The Vols start two freshmen, including at point guard, and play three more and a sophomore transfer who sat out last year.
The win comes during a break in the NIT Season Tip-Off. The Vols won the South Region of the tournament and head to Madison Square Garden in New York to face Butler on Wednesday.
"We're going to find out exactly where we're at. There's no doubt because of the competition," Pearl said.
Said Lofton: "It's important to get there, but getting there is not the main focus. To win is our focus right now."
Tennessee's bench combined for 46 points.
"I thought Coppin State played hard for a while but obviously the pace and the pressure once again took its toll," Pearl said.
Coppin State was led by Tywain McKee, a preseason All-MEAC choice, with 21 points while Ruben Britt had 10. McKee continued to play in the second half after he ran into Tennessee's 6-foot-9 Ryan Childress and crumpled to the floor.
"Tennessee is very athletic and they shot the ball better than I thought they would," Coppin State coach Fang Mitchell said. "We stepped our game up to a level we are not accustomed to, and we paid the price."
Coppin State has lost 29 straight non-conference games.
The Vols led by as many as 18 in the first half. Coppin State cut the lead to 16-12, but Tennessee had a quick 7-0 run that included a 3-pointer by Jordan Howell off an inbound pass, a dunk by Crews and a breakaway layup by Smith.
The Vols pulled away before the Eagles trimmed it to 38-30 on McKee's 3 with 3:09 remaining before halftime. But Tennessee finished the first half with a 13-3 run to lead 51-33.
The Vols were up by 30 with 10 minutes left. Fan favorite Dane Bradshaw, a 6-4 guard-turned-forward, treated the crowd to a rare dunk off his steal in the open court.
The loss dropped the Eagles to 1-31 all-time against ranked teams.