Knoxville celebrates UT's win over Memphis
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MEMPHIS - Maybe now they'll get his name right.
That was J.P. Prince, not "P.J." Prince, who stepped to the stripe Saturday night, 8.8 seconds on the clock, bedlam reigning in the FedEx Forum, and made two of the biggest free throws in Tennessee basketball history.
That was J.P. Prince, not "P.J." Prince, who swooped for three consecutive baskets in the second half to stake the Vols to a 45-39 lead over the Memphis Tigers and make you think, maybe, just maybe, Tennessee could get this thing done.
That was J.P. Prince, not "P.J." Prince, who scored 13 points and pulled down a career-high eight rebounds as No. 2 Tennessee stunned No. 1 Memphis, 66-62.
Memphis, of course, knew Prince's name all along. The guy grew up around the campus. He was a Memphis ballboy as a kid when his dad John was an assistant coach for the Tigers. Then he was the state Gatorade Player of the Year at White Station High School.
But, for whatever reason, Memphis coach John Calipari referred to Prince as "P.J.'' a couple of times this week in the build-up to the most hyped regular-season game ever played in the state of Tennessee.
"I took it personal,'' said Prince. "Most definitely he did it on purpose. And that was the wrong thing to do.
"I hope now he can say my name right.''
They said - and wrote - his name right from sea to shining sea Saturday night. This was the game of the year in college basketball and Prince was the player of the game.
He couldn't have scripted the ending any better.
"I knew I couldn't come back home and let them have bragging rights,'' said Prince.
"I have to live here every day. They (the Tigers) just go to school here."
The first half wasn't the script he had in mind. Prince was scoreless. With three turnovers to boot.
"I was being calm,'' said Prince, "just going out there and playing.''
His play was anything but calm in the second half - 13 points, five of his eight rebounds and the only two dunks of the game for either team.
"Coach Pearl said to rebound like your life depended on it,'' said Prince. "In my case, my life did depend on it, 'cause I'm from Memphis. I grew up here. I lived here every day.''
The biggest rebound came when Memphis guard Antonio Anderson missed a drive shot with 10 seconds to play, trying to overturn a 62-61 UT lead.
Prince was all over the rebound and was immediately fouled with 8.8 seconds left.
Now, just as Calipari and the Tigers knew Prince's name, they knew his free-throw-shooting resume. It stinks.
The crowd of 18,389 had every reason to hope Prince would miss the front end of the one-and-one and give the Tigers another shot at a game-winner.
Prince shoots only 46.7 percent at the stripe. That's an improvement over the 41.7 percent he shot at Arizona before transferring to Tennessee.
"Coach (Bruce Pearl) asked me, 'Do you want a timeout?' and I said, yeah, so he called a timeout,'' said Prince.
"I gathered myself, got my composure and wiped my hands off.''
And then walked to the stripe and made both ends of the one-and-one for a 64-61 lead that set the stage for Tennessee's strategy to ice the win in the final seconds.
"I wanted the game in my hands,'' said Prince. "I said a couple of weeks ago when people were talking about my free throws, if it's on the line, I still want it my hands 'cause I know I'll make 'em.''
He made 'em all right. Later, he came back out of the locker room to do the postgame radio show, holding his jersey front out to emphasize the "Tennessee" above his number.
A crowd of several hundred UT fans bathed him in cheers, including an Elvis in a white jumpsuit and orange cape.
Dick Vitale came over to give Prince a congratulatory hug. Then Prince found his father John and the two tall men embraced.
Who else was here from his family, someone wanted to know.
"The whole city is my family,'' he said. "I grew up here.
"This means everything to me.''
And nobody in this city will ever get his name wrong again.
Mike Strange may be reached at 865-342-6276 or email@example.com.