The good, bad, ugly of UT's SEC tournament history

This year celebrates the centennial season of men's basketball at Tennessee. The News Sentinel continues its series looking into the players, teams and events that have molded an exciting history.

Other than his son Allan’s scoring expertise, the Wade Houston years (1989-94) didn’t produce an abundance of memories for Tennessee basketball.

But come SEC tournament time, you never knew what drama might unfold.

From 1991-93, Houston’s Vols were involved in three consecutive memorable SEC tournaments. We’ll label them the Good, the Bad and the Ugly, though not in that chronological order .

The Good

The 1990-91 season was fizzling out with a seven-game losing streak when the Vols reported to Memorial Gym in Nashville for the SEC tournament.

UT tipped off with a 9-21 record against Ole Miss on opening night. But a 94-85 victory entitled the Vols to stay alive another 24 hours.

It wouldn’t likely be more than that, however, since No. 1 seed and co-champion Mississippi State awaited.

The Vols, however, routed the Bulldogs 87-70, shooting 60 percent from the field to avenge a 27-point loss from Feb. 2.

“We think we can win it all,’’ said guard Jay Price. “The way we’re playing right now, we can beat anybody.’’

On Saturday, the Cinderella story gained steam. The Vols ripped Georgia, 85-65, again shooting 60 percent. In 72 hours Tennessee had won three SEC games, something it took the entire regular season to do.

“I packed for four days,’’ said freshman center Gannon Goodson.

Come the fourth day, the Vols were 40 minutes from an NCAA tournament bid. They were also facing a very good Alabama team.

Tennessee hung tough for a half, trailing only 46-43 at the break. But early in the second half, fatigue -- and reality -- set in.

Alabama eased away to an 88-69 win.

“I was hoping we could hang on one more half,’’ said Wade Houston. “Unfortunately, we couldn’t.’’

“We ran out of gas,’’ said guard Lang Wiseman, “but that’s part of tournament play.

“If we had done our job in the regular season we wouldn’t have had to be in that position, to play so many games in four days.’’

Allan Houston set an SEC tournament record that still stands with 98 points. He was named MVP, the last to come from a non-champion team.

Carlus Groves, who scored 68 points, made the All-Tournament team. Price was excellent at point guard, averaging 15.0 points in the three wins before he hit the wall (2-of-13) in the title game.

The Ugly

The 1992 tournament moved to Birmingham. On opening night, UT shot down South Carolina 70-63 in the Gamecocks’ tournament debut.

That pitted the Vols against LSU and giant center Shaquille O’Neal.

LSU was leading 51-33 midway through the second half when O’Neal went up to dunk, only to be grabbed around the waist by Tennessee’s Groves.

O’Neal threw an elbow and the two grappled. The officials might have been able to end things there had LSU coach Dale Brown not charged onto the court after Groves.

Brown, who later claimed he was merely protecting the 7-foot, 294-pound O’Neal, shoved Groves as official Andre Patillo intervened, preventing Groves from getting a clean punch at Brown. Players from both teams began swinging and mayhem engulfed the court.

It was an astonishing scene. Order was finally restored and O’Neal and Groves were ejected, along with four additional players from each team (Price, Alonzo Johnson, Chris Brand and Steve Rivers in UT’s case).

Most of the crowd thought Brown should have been ejected as well but he wasn’t. (His only penalty was an official reprimand for violating the conference code of ethics.)

LSU, left with only one starter, milked the clock and preserved a 99-89 victory.

Wade Houston, to his credit, behaved with civility during the fracas.

“I would never go on the floor after a player,’’ Houston said. “I can’t speak for Dale. Dale has to live with his own actions. That’s Dale.’’

The Bad

In 1993, the tournament went to Rupp Arena, and No. 4 Kentucky was a huge favorite on its home floor.

Tennessee upset Auburn 78-76 on opening night, but in retrospect, the Vols would have been better off had the Tigers thrown in a 3-pointer at the buzzer.

In the second round, Kentucky lay in wait with revenge on its mind. Two weeks earlier, the Vols had stunned the then-No. 2 Wildcats in Knoxville, 78-77, by virtue of a miraclous four-point possession involving Allan Houston, an intentionally missed free throw and a three-point play on the rebound by Corey Allen.

The rematch was never a match. Coach Rick Pitino’s ‘Cats raced to a 14-0 lead and the nightmare was on.

It was 41-17 at the half. The margin hit 40 points with 12:15 left, then 50 with 7:01 to play.

The final count was 101-40, the 61-point spread being the worst in UT basketball history.

The Vols set dubious SEC tournament records by shooting only 23 percent and giving up 30 turnovers. Kentucky set records with 30 assists and 19 steals.

The sad understory was the painful finale to Allan Houston’s brilliant individual career.

Houston missed his first 14 shots, finally sinking a 3-pointer with 4:54 to play. When the SEC’s second-leading career scorer (2,801 points) went to the bench soon thereafter he was given an ovation by the pro-Kentucky crowd.

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Comments » 31

FLVol writes:

Anyone who ever complains about Bruce Pearl again should be exiled from Knoxville.

Cherokee writes:

Hard to ever forget some of the ugly basketball we saw during the Houston era. We had one of the greatest players in SEC history at the same time we had our worst teams in history. I think the lowest point was a 5-22 mark.

I also remember Pitino being a complete tool in his revenge game. The Cats were pressing up 50. It was totally classless.

ULTIMATEVOLUNTEER writes:

Carlos Groves invented the "HAK-A-SHAQ"

jzt writes:

Even the good in this article was on top of a terrible under acheiving season. Vol fans need to keep this era of Tennessee basketball in mind when they start to complain about Bruce Pearl. I dont known if it is band wagon fans that were making the noise this season but any TN basketball fan that can remember these dark days would surely think twice before complaining about Pearl.

ubershamu312 writes:

Great article Mike. Actually, despite our losing, I have fond memories of the Houston era. 1989 was really the first time I began watching anything Vols, so guys like Lang Wiseman, Corey Allen and Gannon Goodson have strong memories for me.

Terrible regular seasons under Houston, but we did achieve some mild tourney success under him. Allan was such a freak of a scorer.

We may have discussed this when we talked about the greatest UT players of all time, but who would win a 1 on 1 battle in their prime: Bernard King or Allan Houston? I'm guessing most would say Bernard, but I think Allan could keep it sneaky close.

VolJunkie writes:

in response to UTfan4life:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

UTfan, respectfully disagree ...

When you have not been to the championship game since 1991, I think playing on Sunday counts for something. Will it leave everyone feeling unfulfilled if UT loses today? Absolutely, but a lot of good UT teams never played in the SEC tourney on Sunday. Regardless, we have improved our NCAA tournament seeding with two convincing tourney wins.

It's a moot point anyway, UT wins today by 8!

Go Vols!

SCVolsFan writes:

All I can say is GO VOLS!
Come on 1PM. Can't wait.

CoverOrange writes:

Say what you will about Tennessee's poor record in the tourney but:

Vandy has not played on Sunday in the modern era and only once ever won the tourney.

Tennesse has won the tourney as many or more than 6 other teams in the modern era (Aub, LSU, Miss, Ark, SC and Vandy).

Only five teams have won more than once and only three teams have won the tourney more than twice in the modern era. Before that only two teams won more than once and UT was one of the two.

davidkilday writes:

The 4 point possession vs. Kentucky was possibly one of the greatest finishes to a game I have ever seen. Not mentioned is the fact that Kentucky was about to be number 1 in the nation as the top team had lost earlier in the week.

bluetick writes:

Dang! They don't have the enthusiasm as they did in the past few games. Better pick it up.

vol98champ writes:

If you can watch this game today without puking you have a strong stomach. They are really showing the bball world that the SEC is BAD.

MTN_MAN_VOL writes:

If you want to see ugly, just watch the first five minutes of the second half.

gavol writes:

This is definitely the bad and the ugly. The SEC won't get past the first round in the NCAA.

vol98champ writes:

How in the world can they look so good one game and so pitiful the next?

MANVOL writes:

this about as bias as a call of game I have ever heard..

MiserableFloridaVol writes:

Varnado is a beast! How did we let him get out of TN!

gavol writes:

UT might as well stay home rather embarrass themselves in the NCAA. Stupid, senseless play!

gavol writes:

What a joke of a BB conference. Both teams are horrible!

gavol writes:

Idiots!

gavol writes:

I only hope that NCAA officials watched this game and keep UT out of the tournament. They deserve nothing! UT would be a horrible representative of the SEC. I take that back, they represent well the poor BB play in the SEC.

88volgrad writes:

Oh look, all of the loser fans of other teams have crawled out from under their rocks. Why don't you bozos go back to surfing for kiddie porn?

pammyvol1000 writes:

At least we made to the final game. Not our best game down the stretch but maybe we will rebound in the NCAA tournament.

floridavolsfan writes:

How many disappointments can one fan base take??? I am going to Lenior City fishing.....Call me in 2018 or when the "Hamilton era" has proceded us!

ect1983 writes:

in response to jcvet:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

JC .....It is obvious that you are 1. Stupid,delusional, blind,and a bold-faced liar at the very least ("worst UT team in history...huh?)
2. Racist as you can possibly be...your code words "thugs" and "smoke their dope"
3.An embarassment to the state and university
The KNS ought to ban you....You are absolutely pathetic.
As disappointed as everybody is, if the last shot goes in,you still wouldn't be happy.

mloaks#222092 writes:

all you pearl-heads dont remember DeVoe. class act

Ralph_Crampton writes:

In 1979 Vol coach Don Devoe and his Vols won the SEC tournment in Birmingham...It was Devoe at his best..his Vols earlier had beaten Kentucky at Rupp arena rather easy, and when the Cats came to Knoxville. the Vols handed the Cats one of the worst defeats ever...like pouring salt into the wound, the Volunteers whipped the Cats for the third time in a single year for the SEC championship. With the exception of the Vols, no team has ever beaten Kentucky three times in a single year.

tnbud62#231266 (Inactive) writes:

in response to ubershamu312:

Great article Mike. Actually, despite our losing, I have fond memories of the Houston era. 1989 was really the first time I began watching anything Vols, so guys like Lang Wiseman, Corey Allen and Gannon Goodson have strong memories for me.

Terrible regular seasons under Houston, but we did achieve some mild tourney success under him. Allan was such a freak of a scorer.

We may have discussed this when we talked about the greatest UT players of all time, but who would win a 1 on 1 battle in their prime: Bernard King or Allan Houston? I'm guessing most would say Bernard, but I think Allan could keep it sneaky close.

this just shows that you were correct in saying you only know UT basketball from the houston era on.Bernard King would own allen houston just like he did the the rest of the sec when he played.all houston wanted was someone to take the ball out,he sucked at defence,rebounding and assists,his only hope was shooting the ball,no d,for me was his motto,BK53 was the greatest ever to wear the orange,he ave over 13 rebounds for his career,allen houston never got 13 rebounds once,end of story

volboy81 writes:

in response to wallandhiker:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

me too! ....I'd STILL like to see that!

volboy81 writes:

in response to gavol:

UT might as well stay home rather embarrass themselves in the NCAA. Stupid, senseless play!

youre not worthy of orange....go root for the dawgs!

KiwiLuvsUT writes:

in response to floridavolsfan:

How many disappointments can one fan base take??? I am going to Lenior City fishing.....Call me in 2018 or when the "Hamilton era" has proceded us!

1. Get off this site!
2. We take disappointments because that is the storm, but we wait for afterwards when the sun shines and the rainbow streches across the sky.
3.I'll call you in September when we kick your butt. Cuz you dont have a fan base worth anything.

brokendownoldvol writes:

I guess we can go ahead and add 2011 to the debacle.

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