KNOXVILLE, Tenn.-- No. 9 Tennessee claimed it was a tired team Friday night, and the Volunteers looked like it for a vast majority of their 86-69 win over College of Charleston in Thompson-Boling Arena.
Tennessee pulled away in the final minutes, but coach Bruce Pearl and his Vols admitted fatigue kept things interesting a little longer than they expected against the sweet-shooting Cougars.
"To play the way we play, you have to play with great passion and great intensity," Pearl said. "I'm not coming in here tonight saying we didn't because they didn't. We didn't because of the number of games we've played in a row, and the fact that I've probably worked them a little too hard."
Friday was Tennessee's fourth game in eight days, including a 73-72 loss to No. 6 Purdue in Monday night's Paradise Jam championship game, and Pearl practiced the Vols for nearly three hours Thursday afternoon.
"It's the hardest I've ever practiced a team the day before a game," Pearl said. "If we'd have lost the game tonight, I'd have blamed myself. I'm blaming myself now for tempting it.
"We're trying to develop a different level of physicality and intensity, and I absolutely wore us out yesterday."
Tennessee sophomore guard Scotty Hopson scored 17 of his game-high 21 points in the first half, and senior forward Tyler Smith scored 16 of his 18 in the second half. Hopson was 6 for 9 from the field and 3 for 3 from long range in the first half, and Smith was 8 for 8 from the free throw line after the break.
"When you come home, the rim's like an ocean," Hopson said. "I felt great tonight."
Pearl jokingly suggested a reason for Hopson's proficiency.
"Interestingly, Scotty did not practice very hard yesterday," Pearl said with a big grin. "I was on Scotty harder yesterday than I've been on him in two years, and I even talked at halftime about the fact that one of the reasons Scotty had such a great first half was because he didn't practice yesterday.
"He was fresher than anybody."
Charleston (1-3) stayed close by starting 10 for 17 from 3-point range, but Tennessee (5-1) went on a 9-0 run to take a 76-61 lead with just under six minutes left. That lead quickly grew to 82-63 a few possessions later on a Brian Williams layup.
The Vols didn't help themselves with a 6-for-13 start from the free throw line, but they improved to a 19-for-29 finish. They also controlled the glass all night, with a 44-24 rebounding advantage over the smaller Cougars.
"We probably looked tired because, man, we are tired," junior center Brian Williams said. "It's been a tough week, but the biggest thing is we got the win tonight."
Smith slashed inside for a layup that gave Tennessee a 46-33 lead early in the second half, but three quick 3s and a Willis Hall jumper closed the gap to 48-44. An Andrew Goudelock 3 cut the Vols' lead to 61-58 midway through the second half, but Smith and Williams promptly connected on consecutive shots to make it 65-58.
Junior guard Donavan Monroe led Charleston with 16 points, and junior forward Jeremy Simmons added 15.
Charleston senior point guard Tony White Jr., a Knoxville native and the son of former Tennessee All-America point guard Tony White, was given a loud ovation during the starting lineup introduction and finished with 12 points. Cougars coach Bobby Cremins called time-out with 0:36 left, allowing White to leave the floor to another round of cheers.
"That was nice. I liked that," White said of the cheers. "My mom was joking around and saying, 'They might boo you. You don't know what they're going to do.' But I was glad they applauded me.
"It was nice to come home, but it would have been nicer to leave here with a win for our team."
Tennessee hosts East Tennessee state on Wednesday before taking a weeklong break from games to focus on fall semester final exams.