KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl knew if his Volunteers were going to have any confidence during the Southeastern Conference season, they had to start playing better.
How about a 104-84 rout of bitter rival and 21st-ranked Memphis?
``We needed that,' Pearl said.
The Vols upset then-No. 7 Villanova and No. 3 Pittsburgh earlier in the season but had lost four of their past six games thanks to poor defense, weak shooting and diminishing confidence. Even their two victories in that period - a 66-65 win over Belmont and 68-62 win over Tennessee-Martin - felt like losses with the way the Vols played.
This time, it was Memphis struggling with confidence issues. The Tigers started three of their seven freshmen and struggled to find composure in their first true road game of the season.
Tennessee (10-4) came out hot, hitting three early 3-pointers. Trae Golden passed to Scotty Hopson for an alley-oop dunk that got the crowd loud and launched a 14-2 run that gave the Vols a 28-12 lead with 10:41 left in the first half.
``They started making stuff, and even when they missed they were getting second and third chances,' Memphis coach Josh Pastner said.
The Vols grabbed nine more rebounds than the Tigers in the first half by dominating the offensive boards and turned them into 16 second-chance points. They pushed their lead to 23 points on an underhanded layup by Jeronne Maymon with 4:45 left before halftime.
Memphis was outmanned in nearly every aspect of the game through much of the first half and looked lifeless until a 7-0 run in the final two minutes cut Tennessee's lead to 49-34 at halftime.
The Tigers opened the second half with a 3-pointer from Will Barton followed by a D.J. Stephens layup to trim the Vols' lead to 10, but it was as close as they would get.
``Youth is no longer a crutch,' Memphis' Will Coleman said. ``It's out the window. We can't use that anymore. That's not an excuse.'
Hopson got a dunk, and Melvin Goins followed with back-to-back 3s to answer Memphis' run, and the Vols built their lead to as many as 36 points late in the game.
Coleman led Memphis with 17 points. Will Barton had 14, and Joe Jackson added 11.
It was the first time in 11 games this season the Tigers scored 70 or more points without winning and the first time that the home team has won in this series in four games.
Pastner has lost both meetings with Tennessee in his two seasons at Memphis while Pearl improved to 4-2 against the Tigers.
Pearl put his team through three tough days of practice after a 91-78 loss to College of Charleston on Friday and pledged to cut his rotation to just 10 players who were committed to playing defense after the Cougars managed to shoot 57 percent. He kept his word until emptying his bench late in the second half with his team up by 32 points.
His starters answered the call on both ends of the court. Tobias Harris scored 17 points and grabbed 13 rebounds, Hopson had 16 points, Goins added 15 and Maymon 10, and the Vols hit 12-of-21 3-point attempts.
``We needed it a whole bunch,' Hopson said. ``Guys needed a confidence-builder to definitely get the positive energy going. We'll watch this tape and learn a lot from it.'
Pearl now begins an eight-game suspension from Southeastern Conference play handed down by commissioner Mike Slive as punishment for Pearl lying to NCAA investigators during an ongoing probe into recruiting. Associate head coach Tony Jones takes over Saturday at Arkansas.
Pearl will be allowed to coach the nonconference meeting with Connecticut on Jan. 22 and during Tennessee's practices between games but won't coach an SEC contest until Feb. 8 at Kentucky.
``We obviously needed this one heading into conference play to try to fix some of the things that were ailing us,' Pearl said. ``We're not going to get too excited about this. We're going to keep it in perspective.'
The Associated Press News Service
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