Staff Photo by Staff Photo by Angela Lewis / Chattanooga Times Free Press - Chattanooga's Omar Wattad looks for an open player as Tennessee's Renaldo Woolridge guards at Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville on Friday evening.
KNOXVILLE — The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga fell victim to Big Orange Brother’s big basketball frustration Friday night.
Tennessee mashed the Mocs from the opening minutes in Thompson-Boling Arena and cruised to an 82-62 victory.
“They’re thoroughbreds,” Mocs coach John Shulman said of the Volunteers. “They can run. We knew that.”
A somewhat-close-to-capacity crowd of 20,613 saw UT more than make up for its lackluster exhibition loss Monday night against Division II member Indianapolis.
“I thought our defensive presence was really good,” coach Bruce Pearl said of his Vols, who held UTC to less than 33 percent shooting from the field. “Chattanooga has a really good ball-screen offense, and I thought our guys did a pretty good job defending it. We were a little bit more physical tonight.
“We made progress, but we’ve still got a long way to go.”
The Vols (1-0) built a big early lead and were never legitimately threatened by the Mocs (0-1), who trailed 80-51 in the final minutes but finished with an 11-2 flurry against UT’s reserves.
“We were satisfied with the result, especially after that Indianapolis game,” Vols junior guard Cameron Tatum said. “We played hard, we executed and we had not only a physical focus but a mental focus. We were ready tonight, and we bounced back.
“If the talent is not supposedly up to par with us, we still have to focus. We can’t play down to our competition. We have to just stomp on them and show our superior talent.”
Acclaimed freshman forward Tobias Harris led the Vols with 18 points on 7-of-11 shooting. The five-star prospect from New York added eight rebounds in 26 minutes.
“Tobias is special,” Pearl said. “He’s just super solid. A good coach would get him more shots, and our coaches will try to get him some more looks. He’s just a very efficient player.”
Senior point guard Melvin Goins and sophomore guard Scotty Hopson added 13 points apiece for the Vols. Goins was much more efficient, shooting 3-of-5 from the field and 6-of-7 from the free-throw line. Hopson shot 5-of-14 from the field and 1-of-6 from 3-point range.
Tatum scored 11 points, and senior forward John Fields — a 6-foot-9 transfer from UNC Wilmington — added eight points and a game-high 10 rebounds in just 13 minutes.
UT senior center Brian Williams didn’t score in 22 minutes but pulled down eight rebounds.
Pearl praised Fields’ regular-season debut but wanted to see more from his big men overall.
“I need a stronger presence at the 5 offensively,” Pearl said. “I need a 5 man that wants the ball.”
Mocs junior point guard Keegan Bell, a transfer from Vanderbilt, scored a game-high 20 points on 6-of-12 shooting from 3-point range in a game-high 32 minutes.
“The scout said he was a good 3-point shooter,” Tatum said of Bell. “Yeah, he’s a good 3-point shooter.”
Junior guard Omar Wattad, a Tennessee native who transferred from Georgetown, added 13 points in his UTC debut. Junior forward Chris Early scored just two points but led the Mocs with nine rebounds.
UTC coach John Shulman brought Bell back off the bench midway through the first half — the point guard was whistled for two fouls in the first five minutes — but the gamble worked. Bell kept UTC close with four 3s in the first 10 minutes.
Bell’s fourth 3 trimmed UT’s lead to 21-16, but the Vols responded with a 19-2 run, capped by a Harris free throw that made it 40-18 with 2:00 left in the half.
Goins was fouled behind the arc with 0.4 second left in the half, and he made all three free throws to give UT a 45-26 lead at the break. That margin would have been bigger if not for a 12-for-19 showing from the free-throw line — 6-for-13 aside from Goins’ 6-for-6.
“We came out here ready to play, so that was a good response,” Goins said. “Our intensity level was up. I’m pretty pleased with how we came out.”