Dec. 15, 2009
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl had billed his team's game against Wyoming as having the potential to be the most exciting matchup of the season in Thompson-Boling Arena.
The running offenses and pressing defenses of both teams provided that excitement in the first half, but it was No. 9 Tennessee that ran away in the second half for a 77-58 victory Tuesday night.
"We wore them out," Pearl said. "We played that (up) tempo, and both teams went into the locker room, and then one team came out of that locker room and still had what it took to play in the second half. That was impressive to me."
The Vols (8-1) struggled to slow down the normally high-scoring Cowboys (5-5) in the first half, but Tennessee's defensive pressure and fast break offense wore Wyoming down in the second.
Leading by one point at halftime, the Vols ran out to a 57-49 lead with 14:45 to go on a steal and layup by Scotty Hopson, who led Tennessee with 14 points. The sophomore also punctuated Tennessee's second-half surge with several fast break dunks.
Tennessee forced 29 turnovers, a lot of those coming from the Vols taking charge and charges inside.
"We really tried to close the paint down," Pearl said. "We took twice as many charges tonight as we have all season. It was stressed in the scouting report, and the kids executed it."
Melvin Goins put Tennessee up by double figures for the first time with a 3-pointer that made it 64-53, and the Vols cruised from there.
Afam Muojeke had 15 points and seven rebounds for Wyoming, which shot 46.2 percent from the field in the first half, but just 26.3 percent in the second half.
"We've been holding teams to low shooting percentages. We've just got to keep it up, but it gives us confidence on the defensive end," said Hopson, the Vols' leading scorer who rebounded from his one-point outing against Middle Tennessee State on Friday.
Both teams boast pressure defenses and fast-paced offenses that average more than 80 points a game. The Cowboys force more than 20 turnovers a game, but the Vols committed just 13 and had 18 assists, including six each from Tyler Smith and J.P. Prince.
Wyoming managed just five field goals in the second half.
"I think we were trying to rush or something and take quick shots," Cowboys forward Djibril Thiam said. "They took advantage of that and went on quick fast breaks and made easy baskets. I think the turnovers killed us."
Wayne Chism had 14 points for Tennessee and Smith added 10.
The Volunteers finished two short of a season high with 15 steals, and held Wyoming to 18 points in the second half.
The Vols finished just 4 of20 from 3-point range.
Wyoming took a 25-23 lead on a 3-pointer by senior Ryan Dermody, who shortly after added another 3 to extend the lead to 31-25. The lead reached 35-25 but Tennessee crawled back and a tip-in by center Brian Williams put the Vols up 42-41 at halftime.
"For about 30 minutes, we went toe-to-toe with maybe one of the best teams in the country," Wyoming coach Heath Schroyer said. "We just kind of ran out of gas there for a stretch, and they're really good in this building."
The Vols improved to 15-0 at home in December under Pearl.