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December 21, 2006
Notebook: Volunteers finding inside presence
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As Tennessee freshman Duke Crews ran off the floor with his teammates following the Volunteers' 79-77 win over previously undefeated Oklahoma State (11-1) on Monday night in Nashville, Tenn., athletic director Mike Hamilton greeted the big man with a high five.
Just minutes later at the post-game press conference, coach Bruce Pearl shrugged his shoulders and said, "The kids overcame the coach," when asked about picking up a technical foul for yelling at officials. Crews, who was sitting beside Pearl, patted his coach on the back and flashed a broad smile.
Both scenes were fitting.
Crews played his best game of the year and combined with freshman Wayne Chism to give the Vols what they lacked all of last season: A legitimate low-post presence.
"I called both young centers out after our last game (76-58 win over Memphis at home) and they were everything we hoped for," said Pearl in his opening comments. "They delivered in a huge way by responding with tough catches and tough finishes."
Crews and Chism combined for 26 points and 15 rebounds. A career-high 17 points and nine boards came from Crews, who went 8-of-11 (72 percent) from the field despite battling cramps in the second half.
Crews' impact went beyond the stats. Many of the rookie's baskets came at particularly opportune times.
Crews scored the first points of the second half on a layup to pull the Vols (9-2) to 43-39. Three possessions later, Crews spun his 6-foot-7, 235-pound frame around in midair, caught an inbounds pass and laid it in while getting fouled. That basket cut the lead to 47-46.
Crews made another impressive play when he caught a pass on the left block, turned around in one swift motion and threw down a dunk with his right hand to make the score 65-64 Cowboys.
Then, with the Cowboys up by five and threatening to pull away for good, Crews made a play that fired up his team and got most of the 8,118 fans on their feet. Left untouched as players battled under the rim for a missed jumper, the big man came barreling down the lane, soared above everyone else and threw down an emphatic two-handed slam that left the basket shaking for several seconds.
They were the type of plays that former center Major Wingate never made and the type that give the undersized Vols hope that they will be able to match up better with bigger teams down the road.
No Need to Travel for Wins No. 879 and 880
Thanks to some smart scheduling, Bob Knight should tie and break the record for all-time Division I men's coaching victories at home.
With Knight needing just one more win to tie Dean Smith's record of 879 victories, his Texas Tech Red Raiders (9-3) are starting a four-game homestand. The first opponent is Bucknell (4-5) on Saturday. Next up is UNLV (10-2), New Mexico (8-2) and then Big 12 play begins with a visit from Oklahoma (6-3).
The Red Raiders head into the homestand with momentum. They have won their last three games, including a 71-56 triumph at Arkansas (8-2) last Saturday which turned out to be their most complete performance of the season.
Trivia Question: Which current Division I player has a chance to lead the nation in free-throw percentage for the fourth consecutive season, a feat that has never been accomplished? Hint: He doesn't play in a major conference, and his team upset a Big Ten squad last month. (Answer at the end of the column.)
Quote of the Week
"It sort of evens the playing field a little bit. We had lost three ACC games, but they were all on the road in hostile environments. Down here, it was just two teams playing with barely enough people in the crowd to start a fight." – Appalachian State coach Houston Francher after watching his Mountaineers' pull off an 80-69 upset over Virginia in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on Tuesday
Answer to trivia question: Missouri State's Blake Ahearn. The senior shot 97 percent, 94 percent and 93 percent in each of his first three seasons. He is shooting 90 percent (36-of-40) from the free-throw line this season.