March 23, 2008

Pearl praises Prince for handling tough situation

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- Surrounded by reporters, J.P. Prince mostly ignored the playful mock interviews of teammates [db]Duke Crews[/db] and [db]Brian Williams[/db] Sunday inside the BJCC Arena.

Crews jokingly asked Prince about throwing the ball away in the waning moments of the Vols' second round NCAA Tournament game, a captivating 76-71 overtime win against Butler.

When Williams finally probed one too many times, Prince fired back with his own mock question.

"Brian Williams, how do you lose 200 pounds?" Prince asked his notoriously slimmed-down teammate.

Said Williams, "Not wanting to look like you, that was my motivation."

It was welcomed banter for Prince. Tennessee's victory kept Prince from likely sharing what would have been an unfair burden of blame, according to Pearl.

"I thought J.P. Prince played well," UT coach Bruce Pearl said. "I thought he did a lot of good things, whether it be offensive rebounds or taking charges or making plays. Our execution down the stretch was challenged because he's not … I mean, how about never being in that situation and finding yourself in that situation for the first time as a point guard in the NCAA Tournament?"

Pearl said he mostly was pleased with the play of point guards Prince, Smith and Jordan Howell for five minutes. It was the last 60 seconds before overtime that induced some hindsight.

"It did (work out) for about 39 minutes, but in the last minute I was probably asking J.P. to do too much in that last situation," Pearl said. "He and I didn't close it out to well. But boy, did he do a wonderful job throughout the body of the game."

Prince committed six of the Vols' 20 turnovers -- their second-highest total this season after having 23 in a win at Alabama -- but also delivered a significant stat line. The 6-foot-7 sophomore transfer from Arizona contributed nine points, seven rebounds, five assists and one blocked shot in 31 minutes.

"JP is a great player. I just think as far as him playing the point guard position, I don't think it was a sudden move that he wasn't ready for, but you can't look at the wild side or the bad plays that were made," Ramar Smith said. "It's all about the plays he made during the game to help us win."

Among the biggest might have been Prince's atonement to send the game into overtime.
Butler inbounded the ball with 4.3 seconds in regulation, and speedy point guard Mike Green soon worked free for a potential game-winning shot in front of the Bulldogs' bench.

"I just knew I wasn't going to let them score," Prince said. "I knew I was going to lock down … I just took it upon myself that I was not going to let (Green) score."

He didn't, and Prince's teammates took care of the rest.

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