“It was like Knoxville was a different town today, you know?” Pearl said. “I can still feel the excitement.”No doubt, the carryover from the Vols’ 80-76 upset over No. 2 and previously unbeaten Florida has been impressive.
Turn on the radio to get a taste of what’s being discussed in every barber shop and office water cooler.
What’s just as remarkable as Knoxville’s transformation to a basketball town is the short time it’s taken Pearl to put the pieces in place to make it all happen.
Pearl said Friday it’s more than just his team’s fast start, which has the Vols 12-3 overall and 3-1 SEC, on the brink of cracking today’s Top 25 polls.
“The fans aren’t coming (Saturday) night because we’re winning,” Pearl said Friday. “They’re coming because of the effort our players our putting out.”
The players, in turn, put out the effort because they believe in Pearl. Already, Pearl’s fan-friendly ways have rubbed off on his players.
The actual game atmosphere was apparently something not seen since football season. Well, since the beginning of football season.
Fans camped out (yes, this is Knoxville, but it’s still winter) to get tickets to the sold out game, and coach Bruce Pearl gave them pizzas and a pep talk while they waited.
At C.J. Watson’s suggestion, the players entered the arena through the crowd in sort of a mini Vol Walk. Football coach Phillip Fulmer and his wife and Lady Vols coach Pat Summit were on hand to lend their support.
As for the game itself, the team reminded me of a yippy little dog nipping at the heels of an oversized opponent, more of a nuisance than anything else. It looked like they were playing as well as they could, but that it would not be enough.
With only a few minutes remaining, though, they tied the game and then traded leads until the end, when they finally pulled ahead. There were a couple of moments when it looked like poor shot selection was going to doom them, but Chris Lofton made the play of the game when he intercepted the ball on a Gators 2-on-1 break and heaved the ball the length of the floor to Dane Bradshaw, who converted a lay-up to seal the victory.
The fans rushed the court in celebration. If there had been goal posts, they would have been torn down.
A great win for the basketball Vols.