No. 24 Tennessee beats Lipscomb 81-71 for 4th straight win

Lipscomb head coach Casey Alexander calls out to his team in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Tennessee, Saturday, Dec. 9, 2017 in Knoxville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Calvin Mattheis)

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Playing as a ranked team for the first time in seven years, Tennessee reacted as if it’s a fixture in the Top 25.

Grant Williams overcame early foul trouble to collect 19 points and eight rebounds as Tennessee beat Lipscomb 81-71 Saturday for its fourth straight win. The Volunteers entered the Top 25 this week, their first appearance in the poll since December 2010.

”It’s different because teams are now trying to knock us off because they feel like they can earn something because they beat a ranked team,” said Tennessee guard Chris Darrington, who had 11 points and five assists. ”We need to be on edge every single game because every single team’s trying to knock us off because they were ranked.”

The Vols (7-1) listened to the advice they received from assistant coach Rob Lanier, who also was part of Tennessee coach Rick Barnes’ Texas staff.

”Coach Lanier really made a great point the other day, saying we should take it as it’s nothing new and that this is just a testament to our hard work,” said Tennessee guard James Daniel III, who scored 12 points. ”He also said it’s nothing new to Coach Barnes. If you can really put into numbers how many weeks Coach Barnes has been in the Top 25, (we) should just be accustomed to us being like that, just a top team.”

Tennessee capitalized on its depth to withstand Williams’ slow start. Williams, the Vols’ leading scorer, played just 10 minutes and had only four points in the first half.

Williams sat out the last 6 1/2 minutes of the first half after picking up two fouls, but Tennessee extended its advantage while he was on the bench and led 40-27 at halftime.

”He’s such a good player, and he demands so much of your attention on the defensive end because they do a good job getting the ball to him and he delivers,” Lipscomb coach Casey Alexander said. ”For them to extend the lead and play so well without him was probably where the game was won and lost, honestly.”

Garrison Mathews had 19 of his 22 points in the second half for Lipscomb (6-4). Eli Pepper added 10 points and 15 rebounds before fouling out. Kenny Cooper had 11 points and seven assists, and Michael Buckland scored 10.

Mathews’ second-half surge helped Lipscomb rally. His three-point play reduced Tennessee’s advantage to 50-47 with 11:20 left, but the Vols responded with an 11-3 run.

Tennessee’s lead didn’t drop below seven the rest of the way.

BIG PICTURE

Lipscomb: Fouls prevented Lipscomb from completing its second-half comeback. Tennessee got in the bonus with 11 minutes left and went 20 of 24 from the foul line in the second half, while Lipscomb was 7 of 8. For the game, Tennessee was 24 of 30 on free throws and Lipscomb was 14 of 17.

Tennessee: The Vols cooled off from 3-point range Saturday but showed they could win even when they aren’t hitting from long range. Tennessee went just 7 of 22 on 3-pointers, including 1 of 7 in the second half. Tennessee had entered the day shooting 42.6 percent from beyond the arc.

PRUITT’S WELCOME

Two days after getting hired as Tennessee’s football coach , Jeremy Pruitt received a standing ovation as he was introduced during a first-half timeout.

”We’re going to have one goal – one goal – and that’s to win every one of them,” Pruitt said.

KEY STATS

Daniel and Darrington both got their highest point totals since joining Tennessee this season.

Daniel, who led all Division I scorers with 27.1 points per game for Howard in 2015-16, has developed into more of a distributor as a graduate transfer this year. Darrington averaged 20.7 points and was a National Junior College Athletic Association All-America selection last season at Vincennes (Indiana).

UP NEXT

Lipscomb hosts NAIA program Florida College on Thursday.

Tennessee hosts No. 11 North Carolina on Dec. 17.

More AP college basketball: http://collegebasketball.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25

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