LSU's Matt Derenbecker (21) drives as he is defended by Tennessee's Josh Bone (24) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Wednesday, Jan. 26, 2011, in Knoxville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Wade Payne)
KNOXVILLE -- Scotty Hopson went silent after a poor performance that drew public criticism by his coach in a loss to Connecticut last Saturday.
The University of Tennessee junior guard loudly broke that silence on Wednesday night.
Hopson played aggressively from the start, scoring 17 of his conference career-high 22 points in the first half and UT blistered LSU's 2-3 zone defense in a 75-53 Southeastern Conference victory at Thompson-Boling Arena.
"I just took it upon myself to get this team started," said Hopson, who hadn't spoken with the media since Saturday. "I don't feel like I played up to my potential. I've just got to understand that I should just play my game every night, come out and play aggressive and play with energy. I can always control my effort and my defensive effort. I can't always control my shot and sometimes it's not going to fall, but the things I can control I've got to stick to doing well."
UT coach Bruce Pearl, who was serving the fifth game of his eight-game conference suspension, named the talented yet frustrating Hopson as the source of the team's inconsistent play. The 6-foot-7 former McDonald's All-American scored 12 of the Vols' first 24 points, including a layup that capped a 16-7 run that put UT (13-7, 3-2 SEC) up 28-15.
"He was real dialed in, high energy," said senior point guard Melvin Goins, who followed up a 15-point, six-rebound, five-assist game against the Huskies with 11 points and six assists Wednesday.
"Scotty's a great, great player for us, and he's a great key to our team. When he's consistent and when he's going, our team goes. It was good to see him have a great game tonight."
Hopson made seven of his nine first-half shots and finished 9-of-13 from the field, adding three 3-pointers and six rebounds.
"We challenged him to play more focused," associate head coach Tony Jones said, "to be a little more determined [and] to play a little bit more aggressive, and he answered the bell on this particular night."
The Vols pushed that lead to 16 at halftime and allowed the Tigers (10-10, 2-3), who were missing leading scoring Raulston Turner and starting forward Storm Warren due to injuries, no closer than 13 in the second-half, continually getting good looks against LSU's zone defense.
Whether it was penetrating the zone and kicking it back out for open perimeter shots or skip passes over the Tigers' heads, UT put on a clinic on how to attack a zone.
"Guys just wanted to get other guys open shots," Goins said. "It feels good to be able to play this way. It's fun to be able to play that way. We shot the ball real well, moved the ball well and we were patient."
UT finished with 20 assists, eight more than its SEC average, on 29 made baskets and made 10 of their first 21 3-point attempts after entering the game shooting just 32 percent this season.
"In some instances we haven't attacked a zone throughout the season the way we would have liked," Jones said, "but I think our kids did a good job of moving the ball, knowing where the next pass should go before they even catch the basketball. When you're knocking down shots, it becomes contagious."
Tobias Harris (11 points, 11 rebounds) notched his sixth double-double, and Cameron Tatum chipped in 13 after a two-point performance against UConn.
Defensively UT held LSU, the second-worst team in the SEC in scoring and field-goal percentage, to 34 percent from the field, adding nine steals and seven blocks.
But as has been the case with the schizophrenic Vols this season, Hopson's play usually determines how the team plays. And when Hopson doesn't play well early, he's at times in the past let it negatively affect his whole game.
"He's a great player and he's used to seeing his shot go in, so it's frustrating being a shooter when you don't see it fall," Goins said. "As a point guard, I see that and I try to stay on Scotty and stay in his head and try to keep him right and keep encouraging him because we need him [and] we're going to need him all season long."
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Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...