Tennessee's victory over UT Martin was virtually assured by halftime. But that didn't kill the suspense at Thompson-Boling Arena on Tuesday night.
As the Vols struggled down the stretch of a one-sided game, you could sense the tension in the hungry crowd.
"Chicken sandwich!" they chanted with a little more than two minutes to play. That yell quickly gave way to a desperate "shoot it!" in the final seconds.
UT starting point guard Bobby Maze didn't make the connection right away.
"I asked somebody on the bench why (the fans) kept saying 'shoot it.' ''
Meanwhile, back on the court, the rest of the Vols were more in sync with the crowd. Cameron Tatum's dunk pushed the Vols past the magical 90-point mark and guaranteed anyone with a ticket stub a free chicken sandwich at Chick-fil-A.
"They were as happy as if we won the SEC championship," UT center Brian Williams said after the 91-64 victory.
And Marshall Wilkins of Chick-fil-A was as happy as anyone.
"You have to cash in for it to be a good promotion," he said with a smile.
UT scored with such ridiculous ease in the first six minutes in building a 27-6 lead, you would never have guessed its fans would have to yell for food in the final minutes. But the Vols lost their edge in the second half, managing a paltry 34 points against an overmatched opponent.
"At halftime, I talked about the next 20 minutes as an opportunity to get better," UT coach Bruce Pearl said. "I didn't think we took advantage of it."
However, when you can win by 27 and feed the masses, how bad can it be?
Ironically, the player most responsible for the food giveaway is renowned for giving up food. Williams, a 6-foot-10, 267-pound sophomore, lost 103 pounds on his way to becoming a college basketball player.
He accomplished something else against the Skyhawks. He flashed his potential.
Williams made eight of 10 field-goal attempts, including a 3-pointer, while scoring a career-high 21 points and getting 12 rebounds in only 18 minutes.
"He played better today than I have ever seen him," said Maze, who is Williams' roommate. "Brian doesn't know how good he can be. It was good to see him come out and perform the way he did."
The performance was an about-face from the season opener.
"He said he should have played better than that (against Chattanooga)," Maze said. "He was down on himself. And Coach was hard on Brian this week."
That was by design.
"I don't think Brian pushes himself hard enough to put up these numbers," Pearl said. "He's not a role player. He's not. He could be a dominant player."
Williams admits to struggling with his confidence. And that's hardly surprising given his background. He didn't start playing organized basketball until he was 17, and that was at the insistence of his older brother, Darryl.
In his first year at Cincinnati's Harmony Community Prep, Williams said his coaches told him he would never be more than a Division III player. He also said he got more attention from football recruiters, even though he never played the sport.
"(Football coaches) used to come to my prep school, take me out of (basketball) practice and offer me scholarships," said Williams, a native of Brooklyn, N.Y. "I could have gone anywhere in the nation. They liked my footwork."
Basketball coaches weren't nearly as enamored with a young player who had too many pounds and too little experience. But Williams caught Pearl's eye when the UT coach showed up at his game evaluating other players.
He got Pearl's attention again Tuesday night.
"It was good to see Brian Williams step up and play big," Pearl said. "That was really very, very positive."
Anyone with a ticket stub and a taste for chicken sandwiches would agree.
Sports editor John Adams may be reached at 865-342-6284 or email@example.com.