Brackets & More
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - A new starting lineup.
No second-half points from Chris Lofton nor JaJuan Smith.
A 30-win opponent straight out of the movie "Hoosiers.''
Somehow, Tennessee advanced.
The Vols scored a thrilling 76-71 overtime victory over Butler on Sunday at the BJCC Arena. Second-seeded Tennessee (31-4) advances to play third-seeded Louisville (26-8) in the East Regional of the Sweet 16 on Thursday (TV: WVLT, 9:57 p.m.) in Charlotte, N.C. The Cardinals defeated Oklahoma 78-48.
"I coached a lot of teams; this has been my most resilient team,'' said UT coach Bruce Pearl, who started J.P. Prince at point guard for the first time this season. "They do find ways to win, and I think it's because this is a close team.
"There's terrific chemistry, we have too many weapons, and they count on one another.''
It took different Vols stepping up at different times to end the winningest season ever for the seventh-seeded Bulldogs (30-4).
UT didn't seal the win until Smith hit a pair of free throws with 3.8 seconds left in overtime.
"I was thinking, 'Make these free throws, Sweet 16,' '' said Smith, who went 4-for-4 from the line over the final 26.6 seconds of overtime. "I had tried to treat this like a regular game, but in the back of my mind, I knew it could be my last.''
It was certainly one of the most unconventional. The Vols were often out of sync, committing 20 turnovers, and hit just 5 of 19 attempts beyond the 3-point line.
Even Pearl had his shaky moments, admitting he messed up a play call that could've won the game in regulation but instead resulted in a Prince travel with 4.1 seconds left.
"I didn't play-call well, and no fault of his (Prince), he's never been in that situation," Pearl said. "So I said, 'Bail me out.' ''
Prince did just that, preventing Horizon League Player of the Year Mike Green from getting off a potential game-winning shot before the buzzer.
"I just wasn't going to let him score,'' said Prince, who had nine points, seven rebounds, five assists, six turnovers and a blocked shot playing a season-high 31 minutes.
"He (Green) was trying to draw a foul,'' Prince said. "He brought the ball into me; I knew he couldn't shoot over me.''
And so overtime, and more drama, ensued.
Lofton started the extra period with his third 3-pointer, giving the Vols a 66-63 lead at the 3:47 mark.
Butler fought back. Green hit a 3-pointer and A.J. Graves, another of the Bulldogs' five seniors, drove to the basket to put his team up for the first time in the game, 68-66 with 1:44 left in overtime.
The Vols tied the game 68-68 on Ramar Smith's drive with 1:22 left.
And then it was Wayne Chism's turn to assert himself.
Green used a screen to get isolated on Chism and took the ball to the rim, looking to draw Chism's fifth foul. But the 6-foot-9 center moved his feet and cut Green off, forcing him to step out of bounds on the baseline and turn the ball over.
Back on offense, JaJuan Smith looked for Chism posting up inside. Chism took the pass, pivoted, and scored two of his team-high 16 points to give UT a 70-68 lead with 54 seconds left.
Graves drove to the basket with visions of tying the game, but then, another UT hero emerged. Tyler Smith raced across the lane and skied high, pinning the shot against the backboard.
The ensuing loose ball scramble didn't end until Chism threw his 245-pound frame on the floor, grabbing the ball and calling timeout with 32.5 seconds left.
"I knew it was gonna take 'special' for us to win,'' JaJuan Smith said. "And today, Wayne Chism put us on his back.''
Lofton took the inbounds pass, and after being immediately trapped, advanced the ball to Ramar Smith.
Butler swooped in on Ramar Smith, looking to foul him and send him to the free throw line.
But Ramar Smith was too quick, getting a successful shot up at the same time he was fouled, extending UT's lead to 72-68 with 26.6 seconds remaining.
Pete Campbell answered with a basket and the Bulldogs closed to two with 16 seconds left.
The Vols inbounded to JaJuan Smith, who was immediately fouled with 13.6 seconds remaining.
Four free throws later, JaJuan Smith left the court riding Duke Crews piggy-back style.
"I don't know if I'd say that was the best win since I've been here,'' Crews said. "I mean, JaJuan and Chris led us, but they didn't score a lot, and really, everybody wasn't really on.
"We can play a whole lot better. That's the scary thing.''
UT played pretty good early on, leading by as many as 13 points in the first half, 21-8 on a Prince three-point play at the 11:24 mark, before determined Butler started chipping away.
By halftime, the Vols' lead was down to 38-34 and that came compliments of a Lofton NBA-range 3-pointer 2.8 seconds before the buzzer.
"We're just thrilled to survive and advance,'' Pearl said. "That's what it's all about.''