University of Tennessee officials and basketball coach Bruce Pearl got the 20,000+ crowd they wanted and were expecting — 21,612, to be exact — and the team gave them a reason to come back by beating the Georgia Bulldogs 89-76 and extending their record to 11-1 overall and 2-0 in the SEC:
“I think it really elevated our play,” Tennessee Coach Bruce Pearl said. “When you’re a team that depends on runs, it makes the runs last longer.”Senior point guard C.J. Watson said there were a few crowds his freshman season that were comparable, but he could feel the energy from the opening tip last night.
“It’s nice to come in here and have a real home-court advantage,” said Watson, a four-year starter. “It makes a big difference. We’ve been on the other end of that the last few years, so we know what it’s like.”
The UT students turned out in force, with 4,866 showing up to see the Vols win their fifth consecutive game and go to 11-1 overall, 2-0 in the Southeastern Conference. The students were there 45 minutes before the game to get a good spot under the basket closest to the Tennessee bench, and several had to sit in the upper deck.
“We can feel the excitement,” sophomore guard JaJuan Smith said. “It’s real nice when you’re around town and people say, ‘Thanks for bringing this back to us.’ We appreciate it, and we appreciate the fans coming out.”