ST. LOUIS — The Tennessee men’s basketball program took a historic step on its march at the Arch.
The sixth-seeded Vols (28-8) advanced to the NCAA tournament’s Elite Eight for the first time in their 101 years of competition with a 76-73 victory over second-seeded Ohio State (29-8) in the Midwest Regional semifinals at the Edward Jones Dome on Friday night.
The Vols play Sunday (TV: WVLT, 2:20 p.m.) against fifth-seeded Michigan State (27-8), a 59-52 winner over Northern Iowa.
UT senior J.P. Prince blocked a potential game-tying shot from Ohio State’s Evan Turner with one second left to secure the win.
Turner led the Buckeyes with a game-high 31 points - 21 in the second half - but he missed both 3-pointers he tried in the final seconds, one from the corner and the final one from the top of the key with Prince swarming him.
"You've got to make the block; you have to contest the shot,'' Prince said. "He was going to have to earn it.''
The Vols went to the paint, mostly to Wayne Chism, to earn the come-from-behind victory over Big Ten champion Ohio State after trailing 42-39 at halftime.
UT coach Bruce Pearl had been furious in the half-time locker room.
"I've never heard coach like that at half time,'' sophomore Scotty Hopson said. "His speech was outrageous, there was a lot of yelling going on.''
Tennessee junior Brian Williams said it was a much-needed wake-up call that included pivotal instructions.
"He was yelling at us to stop the ball down the middle,'' said Williams, who had nine points and a game-high 12 rebounds. "It's just defense and rebounds wins championships. That's our motto, and I think it showed today.''
It was apparent in the statistics, as Ohio State shot just 32.3 percent in the second half after connecting on 55.6 percent of its attempts in the first half, including 6 of 11 beyond the 3-point arc.
UT finished with a commanding 41-29 advantage on the boards and outscored the Buckeyes 50-22 in the paint.
Chism scored 18 of his team-high 22 points in the second half, Prince had 14 points and six assists, Cameron Tatum contributed 11 and Bobby Maze had 10.
Maze's biggest points came after he stole the ball from center Kyle Madsen and was fouled by Turner with 12 seconds left and the Vols up 74-73.
Maze swished both free throws to help clinch the win.
"Honestly,'' Maze said smiling, "there wasn't a doubt in my mind that I was going to make those two free throws.''
The Buckeyes protected their lead in the second half until Hopson drove baseline and dunked, drawing a foul he converted into a free throw to tie the game 59-59 with 7:20 left.
The lead changed hands six times after that, with Ohio State taking its final lead, 73-72, on a Turner 3-pointer with 41.4 seconds left.
Williams answered on the ensuing possession with a tip-in with 30 seconds remaining that put the Vols out front for good.
The Buckeyes looked to come back with Turner, but his driving shot clanked off the side of the rim. Madsen rebounded before Maze stole his attempt to pass the ball back out to Turner.
"They got confident and started making plays,'' said Turner, who also had seven rebounds, five assists and six turnovers. "They played out of their minds and that was it."
Pearl said there was more to it.
"In the intensity of this game of this game, I thought fatigue was a factor in the second half,'' said Pearl, who rotated 10 players to the Buckeyes' seven. "In the second half, our defense, our depth, and our seniors really made a huge difference.
"Guys that wanted to take this Tennessee basketball program to a place it's never been.''