Forget revenge - survival was the name of the game for the Tennessee men's basketball team Saturday afternoon at Thompson-Boling Arena.
The sixth-ranked Vols pulled out a 74-69 victory over Ohio State less than 48 hours after an emotional victory over SEC rival Vanderbilt.
"We fought through fatigue,'' said UT coach Bruce Pearl, whose Vols are No. 1 in the RPI ratings. "We were a more tired basketball team.''
Tennessee (16-1) looked to make a statement after falling twice to the Buckeyes (12-6) last season, taking a comfortable 68-55 lead when Ramar Smith split three defenders on a drive with 4:56 remaining.
But Ohio State, playing on four days rest, caught its second wind and pulled to 72-69 on an Othello Hunter tip at the 1:52 mark.
The Buckeyes had the ball on two occasions with an opportunity to tie the game in the final minute but misfired on three 3-point attempts.
Once again, Pearl believed fatigue was a factor, but this time it was Ohio State sucking wind in the final minute.
"I think the difference was nine versus seven,'' Pearl said, referring to the Vols' depth. "Ohio State was a little tired; they expended a lot of energy.''
Tyler Smith finally sealed the Vols 11th straight win this season - and 26th consecutive victory at home - with a pair of free throws with 11.5 seconds left.
"At the end they (Buckeyes) got winded, and it showed,'' said Ramar Smith, who had 12 points, six assists and six rebounds. "Those two losses to them last season stuck with me, and they still do.''
Ramar Smith was UT's catalyst throughout the game, repeatedly slicing through Ohio State's zone defense like a tailback in goal line drills.
"Ramar is really dangerous,'' said JaJuan Smith, who led the Vols with 15 points in addition to six rebounds and three steals. "A lot of guys are concerned with me and Chris (Lofton), but Ramar is the one to be concerned with.
"He's explosive and he can create for himself and others.''
So much so that Pearl kept Ramar Smith in the game for a season-high 26 minutes.
"Ramar's family is here, and the Ohio State-Michigan thing, I think there's something there,'' Pearl said, referring to Smith's upbringing in Michigan. "Ramar was excited about playing. Maybe I should schedule more games against the Big Ten.
"Ramar was playing so well I told (associate head coach) Tony (Jones) to leave him out there.''
The teams slugged it out through the first 20 minutes with the Vols maintaining control en route to a 33-28 half-time lead.
The Buckeyes quickly erased the advantage, silencing the sellout crowd of 21,784 when Kosta Koufos knocked down a 3-pointer to give Ohio State its first lead of the game at 37-36 with 18:07 to play.
There were shades of last season's meetings with the scarlet and gray when Hunter scored inside to push the Buckeyes lead to 46-39 at the 15:51 mark.
Ohio State's front line was dominant at times (Evan Turner 21 points, Hunter 17, Koufos 13), and the Buckeyes were making their free throws (17 of 22).
The Vols, meanwhile, struggled from the line (8 of 17) throughout the afternoon and had started to fade.
Pearl, however, ignited his team during an ensuing timeout. Tennessee responded with a 15-3 run that Lofton capped with one of his four 3-pointers as the Vols took a 54-49 lead with 11:17 left.
Moments later, UT ripped off an 11-1 run featuring three Ramar Smith drives to build its 13-point lead, 68-55.
"Against zone, there's always an opening somewhere,'' Ramar Smith explained. "I'm a penatrator. That's the kind of point guard I am. This is a big win.''
The Vols return to action at 9 p.m. Tuesday at Kentucky.