NEWARK, N.J. - Tennessee's 74-72 win over West Virginia might as well have been played on one of the nearby inner-city blacktop courts.
There would have been a lot of skinned up knees and elbows, but the combative style of play fit perfectly.
Instead, the teams battled it out in the new Prudential Center, which with 5,310 fans on hand had the ambiance of a home improvement warehouse.
JaJuan Smith hit 3-of-4 free throw attempts over the final 13.2 seconds as UT turned away the scrappy Mountaineers (2-1).
The No. 7 Vols (5-0) advance to play No. 15 Texas (4-0) in the championship game of the Legends Classic at 7 o'clock tonight (TV: VERSUS). The Longhorns defeated New Mexico State 102-87.
"I promise you this would have been a game Tennessee would have lost a year ago at this time," UT coach Bruce Pearl said. "Our kids did compete, and our kids did guard, but what they did defensively bothered us. We could not run our offense."
The Vols had 13 assists and 15 turnovers while hitting 39.6 percent from the floor and getting out-rebounded 42-33.
Chris Lofton of UT scored a game-high 19 points but missed a pair of free throws with 23.4 seconds left that could have iced the game, as the Vols were up 71-67.
"I almost cost us the game," said Lofton, who was 5-of-15 from the floor and 6-of-10 from the free throw line. "We didn't play great but we won, and that's all that matters."
West Virginia nearly made Lofton pay for his free throw misses when Alex Rouff hit a 3-pointer with 14.2 seconds left to pull the Mountaineers to 71-70.
But then JaJuan Smith stepped up with his free throw heroics, making 3-of-4 in the final seconds to render a last-second West Virginia jumper meaningless.
"We haven't seen what kind of (UT) pressure in practice, and they hadn't seen what we do," said first-year Mountaineers coach Bob Huggins. "This is all new for our kids, so it's hard to make some adjustments."
West Virginia erased UT's 33-28 halftime lead after a pair of technical fouls involving Wayne Chism were called on the Vols within a 15-second span.
The first technical was on Pearl after he argued a call that went against Chism at the 15:26 mark with the Vols up 39-33.
Mountaineers' Joe Alexander appeared to push off on Chism prior to Chism getting whistled for a foul.
Da'Sean Butler hit both technical shots, and Alexander sank his free throws to cut UT's lead to 39-37.
After missing a shot on the offensive end, Chism punched the ball after it had gone out of bounds and was called for a technical.
Again, Butler converted both free throws to tie the game 39-39 with 15:11 remaining. West Virginia was also awarded the ball, and a Darris Nichols' jumper gave the Mountaineers a 41-39.
Tennessee answered and took the lead for good when Ramar Smith scored on a three-point play and JaJuan Smith hit a 3-pointer from the corner to put the Vols up 45-41 with 13:41 left.
UT gradually pulled away, leading by nine when Lofton hit a 3-pointer at the 6:55 mark to make it 61-52.
The Mountaineers rallied, pulling within 61-60 with 4:48 left when Butler, who scored a team-high 16 points, split a pair of free throws.
The West Virginia rally was aided by UT having missed 5-of-6 free throws over a four-minute stretch.
The Vols still managed to build their lead back up to 67-60 when Tyler Smith hit a pair of free throws with 2:47 remaining.
But West Virginia scored on consecutive possessions to pull back within 67-65 on Wellington Smith's 3-pointer with 1:42 left.
A pair of Lofton free throws gave UT breathing room, but then Nichols hit a floater with 1:11 left and it was 69-67.
Lofton missed an NBA-range trey, and after a loose ball scramble a jump ball was called with the possession arrow in West Virginia's favor.
But a Butler jumper went awry and JaJuan Smith was fouled with 35.5 seconds remaining. JaJuan hit both free throws to make it 71-67.
Butler missed another shot and Lofton was fouled, setting up his crucial free throw misses that gave West Virginia hope.
"Considering the hours we're finishing up, we'll be challenged against Texas," Pearl said. "Texas is the best transition offensive team we'll play all year long."