KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Facing a team that could match its speed, Tennessee decided to slow things down just a little.
It worked, and the Volunteers (No. 12 ESPN/USA Today, No. 11 AP) managed the speed of the game well enough to pull out a 78-66 victory over East Tennessee State on Wednesday night.
"It's different," said Tyler Smith, who led Tennessee with 15 points. "We're used to in practice going full throttle."
A steal and a fastbreak layup by ETSU's Justin Tubbs with 15:52 left cut the Vols' lead to 42-39. Tennessee (6-1) answered with an 11-2 run capped by a layup by Wayne Chism that boosted the lead to 53-41 and paced itself the rest of the way.
Tubbs led the Buccaneers (4-4) with 22 points.
Coach Bruce Pearl warned his players that ETSU could give them as much trouble as they had in a loss to Purdue (No. 6 ESPN/USA Today, No. 4 AP) last month. The Buccaneers last week beat Arkansas on the road and gave top-seeded Pittsburgh fits in the opening round of the NCAA tournament last season.
"They were so much stronger than us, and they spread us out some and penetrated and pitched and created some constantly tough matchups," Pearl said.
ETSU used its pressure to disrupt the Vols' fast-paced style and dominate the boards while on defense.
Pearl was visibly frustrated and was charged with a technical while complaining to the referees about a foul on Scotty Hopson and the lack of calls against the Bucs late in the first half.
Tennessee had held a 26-12 lead midway through the first half, but Tubbs hit two of the four free throw shots rewarded for Pearl and Hopson's fouls. He followed it up with a layup to cut Tennessee's lead to 36-31 at halftime.
The Buccaneers used their chances at the free throw line to their advantage, hitting 11 of 13. Tennessee went 15 of 24 from the free throw line and six of them came in the last minute of the game.
"We rebounded with them. We were right there, toe-to-toe with them. We just could not quite get over the hump at the end period," ETSU coach Murry Bartow said.
Before slowing the game down, the Vols did take some advantage of Pearl's "controlled chaos" style of play, forcing 13 turnovers and scoring 21 points off them.
Hopson scored 10 points for Tennessee.
Through Nov. 30, Tennessee ranked third among Division I teams with an average scoring margin of 27.2 points, thanks to lopsided wins against unranked opponents. The Volunteers entered the game having scored more than 90 points in their last three meetings with the Bucs.
"We played well enough to win, which is what I obviously want to try to do considering Thanksgiving and finals and the practice schedule," Pearl said.