Nov. 17, 2009
BY JOSH PATE
The scoreboard didn't matter. Bruce Pearl wasn't about to quit teaching.
With 11:25 to play in an all-out blowout against UNC Asheville, Pearl had just downed a cup full of Gatorade, tossed it in the trash and turned to the floor. He immediately clapped his hands frantically and screamed his vein-popping yell at his team.
Things like that that will get you 100 victories in 137 games.
Tennessee's 124-49 thumping of UNC Asheville on Tuesday night was Pearl's 100th victory as the Vols head coach. He became the second fastest coach in UT history to reach the century mark.
John Mauer, who guided the Vols from 1938-47, need just 131 games to earn 100 victories. His clubs never lost more than seven games in a season, and they won the Southeastern Conference twice (1941-42 and 1944-45 tied). Mauer was 127-41 in his career as the Vols head coach.
Third on that list is the legendary Ray Mears, who coached 141 games before earning 100 victories. Only two other UT coaches have ever notched 100 wins with the Vols: Emmett Lowery with 169, and Don DeVoe with 204.
To place his name ahead of Mears on a list of anything orange says something about Pearl's success rate. But he wasn't about to take any credit or place the focus on himself.
"We want to build on this," Pearl said, brushing off the personal milestone in victory. "We held our last opponent to 34 percent shooting, and we held this one to 24 percent, which is unrealistic to think we can continue that. I like the chemistry and the way they share the ball. I like the fact that they're able to see what they're capable of doing if they apply themselves."
In his fifth season at Tennessee, Pearl has already shown what his teams are capable of doing. Pearl has a .726 winning percentage, good for third in school history behind Zora Clevenger (.781), who was the Vols' first coach from 1911-16, and Mauer (.756). Overall, Peal improved to 417-121 in his 18-year coaching career. Ironically, his 400th career victory came last season at home against UNC Asheville.
On Tuesday, the question of whether Pearl would reach the mark was never in doubt. The Vols raced to a 25-1 lead and didn't look back. The Bulldogs were a dismal 2-of-26 shooting at halftime, and finished 15-of-66 for the game. Tennessee was led by a career-high 25 points from Scotty Hopson as six players scored in double figures.
The 124 points were the most ever scored by Tennessee in a regular season game, surpassing the 121 against Long Beach State in the 2007 NCAA tournament. Michael Hubert's 3 with 1:36 to play broke the record, and put the Vols up by 83 points.
"Tonight we set some records offensively and I'm sure that's what's going to get discussed," Pearl said. "The 124 points was the most we've scored. We had the highest record in assists with 34. We made 16 3s, which tied that record. But really it was all about our defense. We made some really good plays in pressure early that got us on the run. We played unselfish basketball."
When the spotlight was on Pearl's accomplishment, he was unselfish, too.