PROVIDENCE, R.I. - Ohio guard Armon Bassett was desperately looking for an opening on the perimeter as his team struggled to stay within single digits of Tennessee in the last six minutes Saturday afternoon.
All he saw were the clawing hands of UT's Bobby Maze and J.P. Prince.
They trapped him, stripped him and took off on another getaway basket in UT's 83-68 victory in a second-round NCAA tournament game at the Dunkin' Donuts Center.
Bassett looked bewilderingly at an official and his own bench, as if to say: "It's not supposed to be that way."
It wasn't that way in the Mid-American Conference tournament, where Bassett averaged 29 points in four games.
It wasn't that way Thursday night when Bassett scored 32 points in the Bobcats' 97-83 victory over third-seeded Georgetown.
But it was that way all afternoon against a deep, determined UT defense intent on not letting Bassett and point guard D.J. Cooper work their upset magic.
You could attribute UT's success to NBA-like size on the perimeter, as well as the NBA strategy it picked up from the Denver Nuggets in defending ball screens, which are such an integral part of the Bobcats offense.
"The way they guard ball screens in the NBA: We had to go learn how to do that," Pearl said of his staff's off-season work. "In this case, we didn't let their guards get to the ball screen, because once they got to the ball screens and turned corners, it was anything they wanted."
Cooper and Bassett turned the corner repeatedly against the befuddled Hoyas. But they just kept running into trouble against UT's extended defense Saturday.
Their problems were best reflected in Bassett's one-on-one encounters with UT's 6-foot-7 guard Scotty Hopson, who had the lead role in stifling Ohio's leading scorer.
"You just don't see many teams, regardless of their league that have a two and three man that are 6-7," said Ohio coach John Groce in reference to Hopson and J.P. Prince, who was another huge distraction on the perimeter.
Bassett, who had scored in double figures in 14 consecutive games, made only two of 10 field-goal tries and scored seven points. Cooper had 16 points but made just five of 13 shots.
"They just played real hard defense," said Cooper, who's listed as 5-11 but looks shorter. "They jumped the ball screens … It was frustrating playing against a good defensive team like that."
UT so shackled Ohio's star guards, they didn't know what to do with their rare moments of freedom. They were 5-for-13 from the foul line, stunning numbers for two players who combined to make 80 percent of their free throws over the first 36 games.
"Certainly, Tennessee's defense is terrific," Groce said. "But we didn't have it.
"I think the biggest indicator to me is us going 14 for 26 at the line. That's not us."
Conversely, the Vols were very much in character. Their perimeter defense was the best in the SEC this season, as South Carolina's Devan Downey - the conference's leading scorer - could attest. He made just nine of 38 shots in two losses to the Vols.
There was a correlation between Downey and the Bobcats.
"One guy couldn't cover Downey, and one guy couldn't cover (Ohio's guards)," Pearl said. "So we gave whoever was on them help on both sides of the ball screen.
"We just weren't going to let those two guys beat us."
John Adams may be reached at 865-342-6284 or email@example.com.