KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl took a chance and changed his starting point guard in the middle of the NCAA tournament.
That paid off just fine, and now he's got a decision to make: Give J.P. Prince his second start or return Ramar Smith to the starting lineup?
On the line is a chance for Tennessee to go to its first regional final.
``We've given a lot of attention to that,'' Pearl said Monday. ``It isn't normal at this stage of the season to juggle the lineup, but I felt it gave us the best chance of winning.''
Pearl didn't say definitively who will be at the point Thursday against Louisville, but he's happy with the way Prince and Smith played in the 76-71 overtime win against Butler.
Before Sunday, the only experience Prince had this season at point guard was about three weeks of practice at the beginning.
Prince played like a regular for nearly all of his 31 minutes on the floor, scoring nine points on 4-for-5 shooting to go with seven rebounds, five assists and a block.
``J.P. is a stat sheet stuffer,'' Pearl said. ``We got a situation where I felt like we needed (Prince) on the floor more because he makes great things happen. I think he makes everyone else out there better.''
Smith started for much of the Southeastern Conference season. But Pearl went with Prince because of Smith's lackluster play in recent weeks.
When Prince committed two turnovers in the final minute that nearly cost them the game and the chance to move on in the tournament, Pearl turned to Smith for some needed fire in overtime.
Smith played all five minutes of overtime and hit two clutch layups.
``Ramar needs to keep that chip on his shoulder, that toughness about him, and keep bringing that intensity, and I'm confident that he will,'' Pearl said.
Pearl has been looking for a way to get Prince more playing time after the sophomore led the team to victories at Xavier and Memphis. But there's not much room on the roster for a starting shooting guard that includes Chris Lofton and JaJuan Smith.
Jordan Howell started the first half of the season at point guard and struggled as much as Ramar Smith did. Pearl toyed with the idea of moving Prince to the point, though not until the season was over and Howell graduated.
Pearl tried to give Howell another chance to start in the first round of the NCAA tournament against American. But Howell finished with no points, two assists and one steal in 13 minutes as the Vols struggled.
``I wanted to give Jordan Howell all the benefits of being a senior and always doing it the right way,'' Pearl said. ``That's why I started him in the first game, and really hoped that against American he could get going. He couldn't. That's why we continue to make the adjustments.''
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