published Wednesday, December 16th, 2009

Vols overcome Cowboys


by Wes Rucker
Audio clip

Bruce Pearl

KNOXVILLE -- Different sport. Different result. Similar fight.

The University of Tennessee men's basketball team overcame a double-digit deficit in the first half Tuesday night and gradually eased away from Wyoming for a 77-58 win in Thompson-Boling Arena.

UT coach Bruce Pearl warned his players for days that high-octane Wyoming was good enough to do what its football team did last season -- leave Knoxville with a stunning victory -- and the Cowboys never disproved that.

But the ninth-ranked Volunteers (8-1) found enough answers to down Wyoming (5-5).

"That was a good win," Pearl said after the game. "We learned a lot about ourselves tonight. ... We were challenged, and we responded."

Wyoming used a 19-2 run to take a 35-25 lead with less than five minutes left in the first half. The Vols regrouped and sneaked into the locker room with a 42-41 halftime lead despite getting drilled 23-16 on the glass.

"Nobody panicked," UT senior forward Wayne Chism said. "We knew this was a good Wyoming team. We knew we were going to be down at some point, but we just didn't know when. They did a great job, and we had to come back good just to make it a close game at halftime and give ourselves a chance in the second half."

UT's defense tightened up in the second half, but offensive woes prevented the Vols from putting the game comfortably out of reach until the final five minutes. A Chism 3-pointer and a Scotty Hopson transition slam extended UT's advantage to 71-55 with 4:33 left.

The Cowboys shot 5-for-19 from the floor and 0-for-8 from long range in the second half. The Vols scored 46 of the game's final 65 points despite shooting 4-for-20 from behind the arc.

Jason Shay, Pearl's top scouting assistant coach throughout his tenure in Knoxville, approached his boss at halftime and made a simple comment: "This team can't beat us in a half-court game."

Pearl agreed, and the Vols somewhat slowed the game's pace -- but not so much that Wyoming could muster a second wind.

"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."

Chism said the Vols "slowed them down and locked them up on the defensive end. Defensively, we did a very good job tonight. A lot of things have changed (defensively) on this team, things that we didn't have last year."

Hopson led another balanced UT attack with 14 points, and Chism added 13. Tyler Smith collected 10 points and six assists, while fellow senior J.P. Prince had six assists and six rebounds.

Sophomore forward Afam Muojeke led Wyoming with 15 points but shot 4-for-15 from the field and 2-for-11 from long range. His hot start propelled the Cowboys to the front, and his cold finish kept them from keeping it interesting down the stretch.

"No one at this level is into moral victories, but at the same token ... we just played toe-to-toe with a potential Final Four team in their building," Wyoming coach Heath Schroyer said. "They are talented, and they are well-coached, and they are very good in this building.

"They are as good as advertised."

UT's next game is Saturday at Southern California, which is directed by former Vols coach Kevin O'Neill.

Other contacts for Wes Rucker are www.twitter.com/wesrucker and www.facebook.com/tfpvolsbeat.

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