No. 9 Tennessee 75, Middle Tennessee 54
Tyler Smith knew J.P. Prince was ready for a breakout game after
watching him hit jumpers during the shootaround.
Prince followed through by scoring a season-high 17 points
Friday night, and No. 9 Tennessee showed off its depth in beating
Middle Tennessee 75-54 in the first game of the Sun Belt Classic
doubleheader. It was a nice turnaround for the senior guard, who
hadn’t scored more than eight in a game this season and found
himself coming off the bench.
“It was great to see him come out and play with confidence,
play effectively at both ends of the floor,” Tennessee coach Bruce
“I’d like to see him get on the boards some, but I was really
happy for J.P. He just hasn’t been as productive. It’s been talked
about a little bit, was written about a little bit. It was all fair
and right. We’ve been talking about it, and so he’ll feel better
about himself now.”
Prince didn’t grab a single rebound, but he proved he had found
his shooting stroke. He hit 6 of 8 from the floor, was 4 of 5 from
the foul line, blocked a shot and had a couple steals.
“He had a good workout this morning,” Smith said.
His play helped on a night when leading scorer Scotty Hopson was
held to one point, well under his 15.7 average coming in. He missed
all three of his shots.
Tyler Smith also sat out about the last 10 minutes after
twisting an ankle.
The Vols (7-1) hadn’t played since downing East Tennessee State
on Dec. 2, and the nine-day layoff led to some sloppy play. The
ugliest came when Wayne Chism clanked his one-handed dunk attempt
off the right rim in the second half. Bobby Maze added 12 points
for Tennessee, which shot 50 percent (27-of-54) for the game.
“It was a workmanlike game,” Pearl said.
Vanderbilt played Western Kentucky in the second game pitting
two Sun Belt teams against Tennessee’s two Southeastern Conference
Middle Tennessee (3-6) lost its third straight overall and
eighth consecutive in the series. Desmond Yates led the Blue
Raiders with a game-high 26 points, and James Washington had
Tennessee took the lead for good on Cameron Tatum’s 3-pointer
less than 3 minutes into the game. The Vols led 37-30 at halftime
and pushed it to as much as 22 in the second half, when Prince beat
the shot clock with a 3-pointer to make it 68-46 with 5:36
Pearl credited the Vols’ press with wearing down Middle
Tennessee, even though the Blue Raiders only turned it over 12
Blue Raiders coach Kermit Davis denied the press affected his
team that much, instead pointing to four of his top six scorers
“And I can only think of two bad shots,” Davis said.
Middle Tennessee led only once off Yates’ layup in the first
minute, and his layup moments later tied it at 4. But he was the
only player to score for the Blue Raiders until Washington hit a
3-pointer with 13:08 left.
By then, six different Vols had scored.
Yates hit five of his first six shots, and his 3-pointer with
14:19 remaining pulled the Blue Raiders within 13-11. He hit a
jumper midway through the half to make it 19-16, before Tennessee
scored seven straight points capped by a three-point play by Prince
to give the Vols’ their first double-digit lead.
That was part of a 15-4 spurt, with Maze’s 3 giving Tennessee
its biggest lead of the half at 34-20 with 4:19 left.
The Vols picked up some needless fouls, sending Washington to
the line. He made 4 of 5 shots, and Trevor Ottley’s bucket just
before halftime pulled the Blue Raiders within 37-30.
Middle Tennessee got a technical foul in the final minute for
trying to call a time-out when the Blue Raiders didn’t have