Pearl and his Tennessee Volunteers were in Madison Square Garden, a semifinalist in the National Invitational Tournament against Butler. The Vols were there in body but not in spirit. There was barely a handful of UT fans in the building. No UT cheerleaders. No UT Pep Band.
"We looked like an SEC football school trying to play basketball and it was embarrassing," Pearl said of his team's two defeats in the Big Apple -- 56-44 to Butler in the semifinals and 101-87 to North Carolina in the consolation game.
"And we talked about trying to (make sure) it didn't happen again."
Pearl and the sixth-seeded Vols (28-8) have delivered in a big way. They play fifth-seeded Michigan State (27-8) in Sunday's Midwest Regional Final for the opportunity to advance to the Final Four. The winner meets Butler on Saturday.
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MSU is gunning for its sixth Final Four in the last 12 years, while Tennessee is making its first appearance in a regional final. The teams haven't faced each other since Dec. 20, 1994, a 79-68 MSU win in East Lansing, Mich.
There's no denying the excitement surrounding UT hoops these days.
This city's downtown has quickly become a sea of orange as the Vols prepare to meet their second consecutive Big Ten opponent.
UT beat Ohio State and its star Evan Turner in Friday's regional semifinal. This game matches MSU's interior toughness and rebounding skill against a UT team capable of scoring a flurry of points in a hurry.
"I think they are two different teams," Pearl said of MSU and OSU.
"Obviously, Michigan State is much more inside-oriented, particularly with their rebounding, their post-up game. And they're also a great jump-shooting team. Ohio State was more off the bounce, and obviously Evan Turner.
"So, it's just different people. Nothing necessarily that we haven't seen before, with the exception of the tenacity with which the way Michigan State rebounds. It's not just one guy. It's several guys. If they can't get it, they keep it alive. If they can't keep it alive, they'll knock you down trying to keep it alive."
UT hoops, of course, is alive and well, giving off a much different vibe than four years ago in New York City.
The Vols join Kansas, Memphis, MSU, North Carolina and Xavier as the only programs to reach the Sweet 16 in three of the last four years.
"I think what it's saying to the folks here in the Midwest, that we've got a really -- we've got a top-20 basketball program at Tennessee in all facets, both on and off the court," Pearl said.
"So I am very, very proud and very appreciative of the support."