LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — “That was Georgetown!’’ Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl yelled as he exited the court Friday afternoon.
The 12th-ranked Vols scored a 90-78 victory over the defending Big East champion Hoyas at The Milk House in the semifinals of the Old Spice Classic.
Tyler Smith scored 21 points and redshirt freshman Cameron Tatum scored 14 of his 17 points in the final six minutes as UT (5-0) rallied from eight down in the second half against No. 21 Georgetown (3-1).
The Vols play No. 9 Gonzaga (4-0), which defeated Maryland 81-59, on Sunday (TV: ESPN2, 7:30 p.m.) in the championship game.
“Beating Georgetown is very significant for the Tennessee program and significant for the SEC,’’ Pearl said. “I grew up a huge fan of John Thompson, and I’m a fan of his son (Georgetown coach John Thompson III).’’
It was the Hoyas’ fans sensing victory at the 9:11 mark of the second half when 6-foot-11 freshman Greg Monroe drove to give Georgetown a 65-57 lead.
It was all the Vols could do to stay in the game, having scored just one field goal over the previous seven minutes after Wayne Chism sat down with his fourth foul and the Vols up 47-44.
The Hoyas went on a 12-0 run after Chism’s exit that included two 3-pointers by Omar Watted, a former Science Hill High School standout who scored a career-high nine points.
“We found great adversity, because we played a great opponent, and we were in foul trouble,’’ Pearl said. “Our (starting) five are good, but our 10 is perhaps what makes us better or different.
“We go to the bench, and we don’t fall off.’’
Backup point guard Josh Tabb sparked the rally with a drive that drew Monroe’s third foul and led to a 6-point possession.
With UT down 65-59 and 9:07 left, Tabb missed the ensuing free throw, but freshman Emmanuel Negadu rebounded and was fouled on his put-back attempt.
Negadu, the third-string center, split his free throws, but J.P. Prince got the rebound and Bobby Maze hit a 3-pointer to pull the Vols within 65-63 with 8:37 left.
UT stayed close over the next 2½ minutes before Tatum erupted, his 3-pointer from the corner giving the Vols a 67-66 lead with 5:57 remaining.
Monroe hit a free throw to tie the game, but Prince answered with a three-point play giving UT a 70-67 lead.
Georgetown’s Austin Freeman scored on a back-door cut for the Hoyas’ first field goal in nearly five minutes.
But the momentum was with the Vols, and Tatum was feeling it, hitting another 3-pointer from the corner to expand the lead to 73-69, and then getting a steal and dunk to make it 75-69 with 4:15 left.
With 2,000 Vols’ fans in attendance roaring, Thompson called time out and drew up a play.
DaJuan Summers executed, dunking over Negadu at the 3:52 mark to make it 75-71
Smith, like Summers a junior projected in the first round of the NBA draft, responded, backing down Monroe and scoring on a leaner.
“He took the ball right at Greg and stuck it right up his nose,’’ Pearl said.
And then Tatum stuck a dagger in the Hoyas’ heart, hitting an NBA-range 3-pointer banked in from the top of the key to increase UT’s lead to 80-71 with two minutes left.
“You could see those guys eyes get real big when he made it,’’ said Maze, who had 14 points to go with nine assists. “It drained them.’’
Tatum hit another trey the next trip down to make it 83-72 with 1:06 left.
“We were 10 for 16 from three, and we hit 29 of 55 shots,’’ Pearl said. “No one shoots 53 percent against Georgetown.’’
UT is the 10th Hoyas’ opponent over the past 75 games to shoot better than 45 percent.
“I would point to our bench and give them credit,’’ Pearl said. “We need a day off; that was a physical game.’’
That was Georgetown.