Tennessee's Scotty Hopson (32) drives against Middle Tennessee's Jason Jones (22) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2010, in Knoxville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Wade Payne)
KNOXVILLE — Standing just in front of the midcourt line Tuesday night in Thompson-Boling Arena, Skylar McBee let it fly.
It banked in the basket.
Why not? It was that kind of night for the 13th-ranked Tennessee men’s basketball team.
The Volunteers showed no sluggish signs in response to their NIT Season Tip-Off title, throttling Middle Tennessee State early before breezing in for an 86-56 win.
“When they start jumping up and making shots like that, they’re as good as any team in the country,” MTSU coach Kermit Davis said.
Despite coach Bruce Pearl’s pregame worries that his team might struggle in a “trap game,” UT (6-0) blitzed the Blue Raiders (3-4) after the first five minutes.
MTSU needed a strong finish against UT’s reserves to top 40 percent shooting, and the Blue Raiders committed 19 turnovers.
Pearl liked everything except his Vols’ 17 turnovers.
“The number of turnovers, I was not pleased with that,” he said. “But I was pleased with the effort, and the guys came back and they were excited about playing tonight.”
Freshman forward Tobias Harris led UT with 21 points on 6-of-10 shooting from the field, 2-of-2 shooting from 3-point range and 7-of-9 free-throw success. He also had six rebounds, three assists, three steals and a blocked shot.
“Tobias stuffs the stat sheet,” Pearl said. “We did absolutely nothing to get him the ball tonight, specifically. He just knows how to play, and he knows how to get himself open.”
Added Harris: “That’s just my game, scoring in the flow and creating for others. And winning. That’s all I really care about.”
Vols junior guard Scotty Hopson added 19 points on 4-of-6 shooting from behind the arc and 5-of-6 shooting from the free-throw line.
UT senior center Brian Williams had a game-high nine rebounds, and the Vols crushed the Blue Raiders 41-21 on the glass.
“That’s what we’re out there to do — take care of business,” said UT sophomore forward Kenny Hall, who scored nine points in just eight minutes off the bench. “We’ve got to continue to be more physical with teams, because we’ve got a tough schedule coming up, and we’re going to see a lot of teams that are going to be a lot more physical than MTSU.
“We’re not going to let this 30-point victory get us big-headed or anything. The schedule’s going to get a lot tougher.”
After taking off the rest of the week to focus on fall semester final exams, the Vols will travel to Pittsburgh for a Dec. 11 game against the third-ranked Panthers.
“Like Villanova, they’re going to be really physical,” Harris said. “All those Big East teams are really physical.”
UT opened Tuesday night’s game with an 8-0 run. MTSU responded with a 10-0 spurt. The Vols then responded with a 21-0 run, and their lead first swelled to 20 on a Hopson 3.
A coast-to-coast finish from Harris widened the gap to 41-17 with 2:03 left in the first half.
The Vols started 7-of-13 from behind the arc and finished the first half at 8-of-15 when McBee’s last-second launch went off the square and down the shoot to give them a 46-23 lead.
Freshman walk-on guard Tyler Summitt, the son of legendary Lady Vols basketball coach Pat Summitt, banked in a 3 from the corner to cap UT’s scoring in the final minute of the game.
“I didn’t call it — not at all — but my dad’s a banker, so the bank’s always open,” Summitt said.
The Vols won’t practice today, but they’ll mix in work the next few days around the players’ exam schedules.
Sophomore forward Jeronne Maymon, a 6-foot-7 transfer from Marquette, will be eligible for UT if his semester grades are posted before the Pitt game. If not then, he’s still expected back well before Christmas.
Contact Wes Rucker at firstname.lastname@example.org or 865-851-9739. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/wesruckerCTFP or Facebook at www.facebook.com/tfpvolsbeat.