Tennessee-Missouri St. Preview

Tennessee avoided being upset during its opening game of the NIT

Season Tip-Off. It might face an even bigger challenge in the

second round.

The No. 24 Volunteers look for a better effort when they host a

veteran Missouri State squad Wednesday night.

After being upset by Division II Indianapolis in the preseason,

coach Bruce Pearl made sure his Tennessee team would not take any

opponent lightly to start the regular season.

The Vols played well during an 82-62 season-opening victory over

Chattanooga on Friday, but received a scare before pulling away in

the final minute for an 85-76 win over Belmont in Tuesday’s NIT

opener.

Scotty Hopson had 18 points and freshman Tobias Harris added 16

with seven rebounds as Tennessee shot 53.2 percent but could not

prevent the Bruins from coming within a point of the lead with a

22-6 second-half run. The Vols also committed 27 turnovers but went

32 of 40 from the free-throw line.

“We survived some different things,” Pearl said. “We survived

and we became a better basketball team because of some of the

things we did well and some of the things that we didn’t

execute.”

It appears Pearl must try to live with the inconsistencies and

moments of weakness from a team that returns two starters from last

season’s 28-win squad that came within a game of reaching the Final

Four.

“We’re still young and still growing,” guard Cameron Tatum told

the school’s official website. “We’re still trying to iron our

pieces out. But we’ll get there.”

Tennessee likely will need a more complete effort when its meets

Missouri State (2-0) for the first time since losing 81-51 to the

Bears in the second round of the 1999 NCAA tournament.

Led by junior forward Kyle Weems, the Bears return their top

five scorers from last season’s 24-12 team that beat Pacific 78-65

to win the CollegeInsider.com tournament championship.

Weems, who averaged a team-leading 13.6 points and 6.2 rebounds

last season, has 34 points through the first two games. He had 18

in Tuesday’s 80-71 win over Arkansas State.

Senior guard Jermaine Mallett scored 17 points while 6-foot-9

Will Creekmore added 13 and 10 boards as Missouri State held a

42-36 advantage on the boards to outrebound its 12th straight

opponent.

“We’re going to see a different level of ball pressure, a

different level of physicality against Missouri State,” Pearl told

the school’s official website. “That will be one of the most

physical teams we play against.”

That could put more pressure on the 6-foot-8 Harris and 6-10

Brian Williams, who fouled out after recording six points and three

rebounds in nine minutes Tuesday.

The highly touted Harris has totaled 34 points and 12 boards

through two games.

Tennessee could be without starting guard Melvin Goins, who

reaggravated a side injury Tuesday.

Though Missouri State is 5-17 against teams ranked in the AP

Poll, four of those victories have come in its last five games

against Top 25 opponents.