PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- You don’t have to convince Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl or his team about the stakes in facing Ohio rather than Georgetown in the second round Saturday.
Pearl has been where Ohio is now when he was at Wisconsin-Milwaukee and coached the Panthers to the Sweet 16.
“It’s a chance to go to the Sweet 16 and go to St. Louis, and have everyone talk about you for a week,’’ Pearl said after No. 6 Tennessee beat No. 11 San Diego State 62-59 in the nightcap at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center in Providence Thursday night.
“Ohio is a lot like we were at Wisconsin-Milwaukee, relying on 3s,’’ Pearl said of the Bobcats who upset No. 3 Georgetown in the first round earlier Thursday. “We shot ourselves past Alabama and Boston College that year. I guarantee it that Ohio thought it could beat Georgetown and I guarantee you they think they can beat us.’’
Tennessee played a classic grinder game to beat the Aztecs on Thursday night. That’s exactly what the Vols have done throughout an erratic season that has included knocking off top-seeded Kansas and Kentucky at home. Pearl said the Vols had to limit Billy White and Malcolm White inside, and they did as neither player cracked double figures for the Mountain West champs. Meanwhile, J.P. Prince ended up being the early catalyst for the Vols with 15 points before Melvin Goins was the finisher with a decisive 3-pointer.
But the Vols will have to switch how they defend in round two. It was critical to shut down the Aztecs’ inside game. They’ll have to defend on the perimeter against the Bobcats.
Beat Ohio and the improbable season for Tennessee, which had to deal with a major black eye when four players were arrested on New Year’s Day which ultimately led to the dismissal of star wing Tyler Smith, continues to the Sweet 16.
“There’s such a difference from the first weekend to the second,’’ Pearl said. “Everyone talks about you. There are only 16 teams. It means a whole lot."