KNOXVILLE — If any other Tennessee men’s basketball player scored seven points in a game, it wouldn’t be a big story.
But when Scotty Hopson has that output, it’s a story.
Hopson, who averages 16.5 points per game and twice has been the Southeastern Conference player of the week this season, is acutely aware of this double standard.
“Everyone knows the expectations for me,” Hopson said. “I definitely know it.”
His teammates certainly know it.
“There’s definitely pressure on Scotty,” senior forward John Fields said. “He has an NBA future, so he’s playing for that and he’s playing against all his critics. He has a lot of pressure to go out there and be on his ‘A’ game 100 percent of the time.”
In the seventh-ranked Volunteers’ loss Tuesday to mid-major Oakland, Hopson got his seven points on 1-for-6 shooting from the field.
“From the tip, I could see the ball pressure was going to be intense — just the things that I try to do when I’m playing another [scorer],” Hopson said. “I think they did a good job of it. I kind of let up on some of it on my own. I let a lot of it stop me, from my own standpoint. Not to take anything away from them, but I think I let a lot of it stop me on my own.
“I looked at the film. There’s a lot of good learning points I can learn from ... and [have] just got to battle through. I’ll bounce back the next game, I’m sure I will.”
The Vols (7-1) hope to see that happen tonight at Charlotte (4-6), a rebuilding program with just seven scholarship players and two walk-ons healthy and eligible.
“I just always look at like this team is going to go as far as I take them,” Hopson said. “We know that. Everyone knows that it’s a lot of expectations for me to do different things, not just score — just propel us to win.”
To a certain extent, all the Vols feel pressure to perform in what’s recently become a high-pressure program.
Fields, a graduate student who previously played at mid-major programs East Carolina and UNC Wilmington, said the need to win at UT is “so much stronger” than it was at his first two stops.
“This is a program with big expectations,” Fields said. “Coming from my other programs, there was really no pressure. You could go out and play pressure-free. But here, you can definitely see some of the pressure weighing on the guys.
“But, you know, that’s just a cross you’ve got to bear when you come to one of these top programs, and you’re one of the top players in the nation. I feel Scotty’s handling it very well.”
In the times Hopson doesn’t handle it well, though, his teammates said they don’t feel the need to pile on and complicate the problem.
“He relies on us to pick him — you know, help him, talk him through it,” said sophomore forward Jeronne Maymon, a Marquette transfer who will make his UT debut tonight. “He likes to be comforted by his peers and everything like that, so we try to build him up as best we can, so he can get back on his game.
“Everybody has an off game, but we’re going to need him to be a scoring presence if we want to go far.”
Vols coach Bruce Pearl went to bat for Hopson immediately after Tuesday night’s loss, before any reporter even mentioned his name.
“I want to defend Scotty, because I thought Scotty, even though he only made one basket, he did not get a ton of looks,” Pearl said. “They did a pretty good job on him, and I didn’t do a very good job of getting him more looks. And I don’t think it had anything to do with the fact that he wasn’t ready or excited about playing. Scotty’s practiced terrific this week, and really, really has been focused. From that standpoint, he’s disappointed because he didn’t play well, and he’s an easy target.
“He has been really focused. I don’t think that’s going to be a problem for him, bouncing back.”
Hopson was back beaming with confidence on the practice floor Wednesday night, and he claims a desire to erase the reputation that he’s a talented but inconsistent performer.
“I’ve been up and down since I was a freshman,” he said. “It’s going to happen. Can’t always control it, but I can control the next game, control my own efforts out there and what I do next game.
“Bad things will happen, and sometimes God has a way of giving you what you are deserving. We just have to battle through this and handle this adversity, and handle a loss, and guys know that even with that loss, there’s a lot of things we can accomplish this season.
“The season isn’t over. We’ve just got to come out next game and try to get a win.”
Contact Wes Rucker at firstname.lastname@example.org or 865-851-9739. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/wesruckerCTFP or Facebook at www.facebook.com/tfpvolsbeat.
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