KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Tennessee has already shown it could handle playing under adversity. Now the Volunteers are trying to prove they can handle success.
The Vols followed their NIT Season Tip-Off championship and a victory against then-No. 7 Villanova by cruising past Middle Tennessee 86-56 on Tuesday night.
"I was pleased with the effort. The guys came back and were excited about playing tonight," coach Bruce Pearl said. "Back in the middle of November, I don't know that I could have anticipated us playing this effectively or perhaps this well."
The Vols have shown they're not affected by an ongoing NCAA investigation into the program. Pearl was concerned they could still be in for a trap game with the excitement of winning big at Madison Square Garden in New York still a fresh memory and with finals and a Dec. 11 trip to No. 3 Pittsburgh up next on the schedule.
He had little to worry about; Tobias Harris scored 21 points and Scotty Hopson added 19.
The Vols (6-0) opened with an 8-0 run and trailed only once as Middle Tennessee (3-4) responded with a 10-0 run while shutting down the paint on the defensive end.
That's when Pearl put in a defensive lineup with John Fields, Steven Pearl and Renaldo Woolridge to pressure the Blue Raiders' shooters, and the only basket for three minutes was a 3-pointer by Hopson. Middle Tennessee didn't score for eight minutes.
"We just got totally out of character," Blue Raiders coach Kermit Davis said. "We just shot it on one pass and played real selfishly. I thought Tennessee moved the ball really well. They played hard, played like an unselfish team. They were physical. We couldn't get anything around the goal. They blocked shots and intimidated us off the dribble."
When the Vols' shooters returned to the court, they went on a 21-0 run with five of six consecutive baskets coming from behind the arc. The last of the five, a shot by Trae Golden with 7:21 left in the first half, made it 29-10.
Hopson was 4 of 5 from 3-point range in the first half and scored 14 points before halftime. Brian Williams had nine rebounds and John Fields blocked three shots.
The Blue Raiders couldn't catch the Vols, who entered halftime with a 46-23 lead after Skylar McBee banked a shot from a few feet in front of the halfcourt line at the buzzer.
By the break Tennessee had hit 8 of 15 from 3-point range and 53.6 percent overall. Middle Tennessee shot 36.4 percent in the first half and made only 3 of 6 3-point attempts.
The Vols outrebounded the Blue Raiders 41-21 and turned 16 offensive boards into 17 second-chance points.
Tennessee expanded its lead throughout the second half and led by as many as 34 points late in the game. Harris spread the floor after halftime, making his only two 3-pointers, getting four shots near the rim and hitting 7 of 9 from the free-throw line.
"Our goal is just to be the best team we can be. We can't take days off, we've just got to keep playing hard," Harris said.
Even walk-on Tyler Summitt, son of Lady Vols coach Pat Summitt, made it into the game late and hit a 3-point shot, his first points of the season, which drew a large cheer from the crowd.
"It wasn't part of the game plan to let them take [3-point shots]," said James Washington, who led Middle Tennessee with 11 points. "Our big men did a good job on the defensive post. We should have closed out better to their shooters where they couldn't have practiced out there shooting 3-pointers."