MEMPHIS — It turned out all the Tennessee men’s basketball team needed to regain its form was a wake-up call.
A raucous, sold-out Memphis crowd of 17,544 at FedEx Forum provided it, and the 14th-ranked Vols responded with a 66-59 victory Thursday afternoon.
“We got back to that Tennessee basketball, playing with a chip on our shoulders,’’ UT senior captain Tyler Smith said. “We got our swag back.’’
Tennessee hit 7 of 8 free throws in the final minute to thwart the Tigers’ comeback hopes. Memphis failed to draw closer than four points after trailing 31-24 at half time.
Wayne Chism led UT with 15 points and nine rebounds, Memphis native J.P. Prince scored 12 points, had five rebounds and three assists and Smith had 11 points, five rebounds and three assists.
The Vols (10-2) snapped Memphis’ 23-game home court win streak in the process.
“The crowd and intensity made a difference for us,’’ said Prince, who hit 3 of 4 free throws in the final minute and forced a turnover with 25 seconds left to secure the win. “We were going to bring the intensity from the start and keep it up. They started hot, but we stayed poised.’’
The Tigers (9-3) jumped to a 12-6 lead, pushing the arena noise level to deafening proportions seven minutes into the action.
But after the teams exchanged free throws, the Vols went on a 9-0 run capped by a Prince dunk, going up 16-13 at the 10:24 mark and Memphis never led again.
Tennessee held a commanding 47-28 rebounding advantage and out-scored Memphis 30-12 in the paint and 10-5 on second-chance points.
“We were the bigger team, and we did the things we needed to do when you have that advantage,’’ said UT coach Bruce Pearl, who’s 3-2 against Memphis and 2-1 in FedEx Forum. “We controlled the game.’’
The Vols went up by as many as 13 points when Scotty Hopson drove to the basket to cap a 9-0 run and make it 42-29 with 16:02 left to play.
But the Tigers, who lost to No. 1-ranked Kansas by a 57-55 count earlier this season, chipped back into UT’s lead with defense and free throw shooting.
Memphis held the Vols without a field goal for seven minutes after Hopson’s drive, and two Elliot Williams free throws cut the lead to 44-37 with 9:27 left and got the electric blue crowd back into it.
Williams, who entered the game averaging a team-high 20.7 points per game, scored 11 of his 13 from the free throw line. His only field goal was academic, coming with 12.4 seconds left.
“Elliot goes left, and he goes lefter,’’ said Pearl, who instructed the numerous defenders he threw at Williams to force the star guard to his right.
Hopson was one of those defenders, and he came through with a minute left by stoning Williams on a drive that could have pulled Memphis within two points.
“I knew coming in he was a key guy for them, and when we were matched up it was fierce,’’ Hopson said. “It was a good confidence boost for me to know I can come up with a big stop on defense.’’
Memphis coach Josh Pastner bemoaned the Vols’ rebounding advantage and said he knew it could be a factor entering the game.
“They got second-chance points,’’ Pastner said. “That hurt us — 18-9 (UT’s advantage in offensive rebounds) was the big difference right there.’’
Doneal Mack led the Tigers with 15 points and was 4-of-9 shooting beyond the 3-point arc before fouling out with 3:32 left. The Vols continued their struggles from the perimeter, connecting on 2 of 13 beyond the arc.
Memphis had three players disqualified, and UT’s Bobby Maze also fouled out, as officials whistled 50 personal fouls to keep the chippy game under control.
“This crowd, it was hostile and ranks right up there with Kansas, Kentucky and Florida,’’ Hopson said. “But we kept our composure. We needed this game to start our turnaround.’’
The Vols return to action against Charlotte (10-2) at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Thompson-Boling Arena before No. 1-ranked Kansas (12-0) comes to Knoxville on Jan. 10.
Orange Slices: Nine Vols played double-digit minutes, and sophomore Renaldo Woolridge played eight minutes. ... Memphis was favored by one point, the first time UT had been an underdog in 17 games dating back to a win at South Carolina last season. ... The Tigers’ two previous losses, to Kansas and UMass, were by a combined three points. ... Memphis is now 101-11 in its sixth season playing in FedEx Forum. ... Sixteen of the 21 meetings between the Vols and the Tigers have been decided by 10 points or less.