Strange: Agonizing, but for Vols another step in right direction

Mike Strange

ST. LOUIS - It was a day Tennessee basketball will never forget. So close. So agonizing.

"These just stay with you forever,'' a drained, soft-spoken coach Bruce Pearl said Sunday after watching a dream die.

Michigan State won the day and the prize - a trip to the Final Four.

After 39 minutes and 58 seconds, fate still hadn't settled on a winner or a loser.

In that two precious seconds left over, Michigan State got a whistle and Raymar Morgan hit a free throw. Tennessee still had time for a prayer of a shot, but that's all it was and it went unanswered.

No Christian Laettner miracles this day. So Michigan State won, 70-69.

So close. So agonizing.

That 29-point loss to Kentucky in the SEC tournament two weeks ago? The particulars are already getting fuzzy.

Ones like this are different. Pearl is certain he will remember every detail from this day forward.

How the Spartans got a basket on an out-of-bounds play at the buzzer to end the first half.

How his defense broke down at critical points in the second half, allowing Michigan State shooters open looks that they knocked down.

How Tennessee missed a few free throws at bad times.

How missed box-outs allowed Michigan State so many second-chance points.

But on this first Elite Eight day in UT men's basketball history, there were also many good memories to take away and cherish forever.

"It hit home when we entered the dome and saw the orange pouring in,'' said UT men's athletic director Mike Hamilton.

"At some point I saw an overhead shot (on the JumboTron) and I was blown away with the amount of orange.''

Tennessee's team represented the program in first-class fashion Sunday at the Edward Jones Dome. So did Tennessee's fans.

Attendance was listed at 25,242. A whole lot of them were wearing orange.

Some were here Friday night for a pulsating win over Ohio State. More came in droves Sunday.

"They recognize we've made a lot of progress in our basketball program,'' said Hamilton. "They wanted to be here to support the guys.''

Pearl's reference point on that progress goes back to November 2006, his second season at UT.

The Vols went to Madison Square Garden in New York for the final four of the Preseason NIT. There was Gonzaga, North Carolina and Butler, all with rich basketball traditions.

Tennessee didn't bring a pep band or cheerleaders (it was still football season). There were only a few UT fans scattered around.

And the team didn't show up, either, getting hammered by Butler and North Carolina.

"We looked like an SEC football school rounding out the field,'' Pearl recalled. "I was embarrassed.''

Not Sunday, he wasn't.

Tennessee competed on the court like a basketball school, battling Michigan State to the buzzer. The Spartans will play in the Final Four for the sixth time in the past 12 years, but it's unlikely any of the previous five were as difficult to attain as this one.

"Everybody in this locker room feels like we should have won this game,'' said junior Brian Williams.

Tennessee had all the trappings of a basketball school in the stands, too.

"We looked like a real basketball program here,'' Pearl said. "Our fans were tremendous.

"We were no SEC football school that was rounding out a field.''

There was a football coach - Derek Dooley - cheering in the sea of orange. But UT answered the bell on the biggest basketball stage it's ever seen.

Getting back there is never to be taken for granted. Pearl knows that.

"We'll get here again,'' he vowed.

"This was a baby step, a step in the right direction. The big step would be to get to the Final Four.

"We're headed in the right direction. We're doing the right things.

"It's great to be a Tennessee Vol. What can I tell you?''

Only every detail of a Sunday when Tennessee looked like a basketball program.

Mike Strange may be reached at strangem@knoxnews.com or 865-342-6276.

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Comments » 42

MikeInTN writes:

So proud of THE VOLS!!!!!!!!!

midnite__VOL writes:

An outstanding effort by the VOLS......CONGRATS on an awesome season

TNisPeerless writes:

Thank you guys for a great run!

tnaseevol writes:

There is no one like our Tennessee Vol Basketball Team. I am so proud of CBP and this team. We've gone very far this year. A really good beginning. CBP=COY Good luck to you seniors in all that you do.

ProwlinAndGrowlinSmokeyDog writes:

I am so very proud how this team came together through adversity. The Vols were underdogs for a large portion of the season and that just seemed to motivate them and have that "I will show you" attitude.

Chism,Prince,and Maze will be missed because they played with so much heart and provided great leadership when times got rough.

I'm already looking forward to next season!!! Maybe next year we will make it to the Final Four, but I do know that CBP will eventually get them there. He took them somewhere they had never been before and he WILL do it again.

IT'S GREAT TO BE A TENNESSEE VOL!!!

eduardo writes:

Unexpected and Unprecedented. Great Year!!! Thanks to Bobby Maze, Wayne Chism and JP Prince for representing Tennesse Basketball in a first class manner. THIS IS ONLY THE BEGINNING!!!!

MiserableFloridaVol writes:

Proud as I can be. Go Big Orange.

Brillovol writes:

My heart is broken and proud all at the same time. I am so sad to see our seniors go but so overwhelmingly proud of what they have accomplished. There is no shame in this loss, season, or college careers for the seniors.

Thanks for the memories Wayne, J.P., Bobby, and yes, Tyler too. Wayne Chism: the winningest Volunteer men's baller ever. You boys will be sorely missed and will always be Volunteers.

With a tear in my eye, I'll sing Rocky Top one more time for you...

RoadTrip writes:

in response to Brillovol:

My heart is broken and proud all at the same time. I am so sad to see our seniors go but so overwhelmingly proud of what they have accomplished. There is no shame in this loss, season, or college careers for the seniors.

Thanks for the memories Wayne, J.P., Bobby, and yes, Tyler too. Wayne Chism: the winningest Volunteer men's baller ever. You boys will be sorely missed and will always be Volunteers.

With a tear in my eye, I'll sing Rocky Top one more time for you...

You expressed my sentiments exactly.

Thanks for the memories guys. We will be telling our grandchildren about your heart and determination in overcoming adversity. Good luck and God bless in the future.

BradleyJKinkaid writes:

I have been a Volunteer since I was kid - dad gone, brother in the Marines, just me and mom.

My first football game was vs. Army at Neyland. They beat us.

I remember listening to BB games on an alarm clock radio. I was probably around 6-7-8 years old maybe. I don't remember any names of the players.

But in the last 4-5 years I have truly become a fan of Big Orange Basketball. I love this team, this coach, and our program.

I am extremely proud of ALL of them today.

vut56#231073 writes:

On some other stories, I have seen too many of the usual posts that point fingers, mention all that went wrong and suggest, as they do too often on these sites, the blame game is in order.

We slugged it out, toe to toe, with an ultimate final four team. Had we pulled it out, it would have made MSU no less than a final four contender, either. Someone had to lose.

Three months ago, anyone suggesting this would have been hauled off, in a straight jacket. To suggest that other than our wildest prayers were answered is to be dishonest and off base. This was a great finish to an amazing year. Not the ultimate story; just a great one.

We should be proud of these guys for giving their all. Every ball doesn't go in; every fan should cheer the shooter.

Great effort and great memory.

brokebackvol writes:

Proud of those boys in Big Orange! GBO!

DaddyVol writes:

We love all our boys and girls. VOLS FOREVER!!!!

hallmo11 writes:

As a fan, we didn't have to lift all those weights or run all those sprints. You guys
did that for us. We are grateful to each of
you for taking us on this great ride of a
season that we'll never, ever forget!! It's
a giant step that will only lead to better things.

Razor784 writes:

It was an awesome effort that made me proud of my team. Even though we lose 3 seniors we'll be very good again next year, CBP is one of the best in the country, I hope he's rewarded accordingly

give_him_6 writes:

I am extremely proud of you Coach Pearl and the job you have done since you came here. It wasn't easy for you. I know. I've followed Vol B-Ball for nearly 30 years now. But you have really gotten the fans "awake" and on fire for the Vols. You are a credit sir.

And to the Seniors Chism, Maze and Prince...Thanks guys for so many memories. You have represented yourselves, the team and the school with nothing but class and an amazing will to push farther than any place the Vols have gone before. You are all worthy of being called the best team Tennessee has ever fielded. I am so proud of your accomplishments and I can say this with pride..IT'S GREAT TO BE A TENNESSEE VOL!!!

pj_ladyvolnMI writes:

in response to Brillovol:

My heart is broken and proud all at the same time. I am so sad to see our seniors go but so overwhelmingly proud of what they have accomplished. There is no shame in this loss, season, or college careers for the seniors.

Thanks for the memories Wayne, J.P., Bobby, and yes, Tyler too. Wayne Chism: the winningest Volunteer men's baller ever. You boys will be sorely missed and will always be Volunteers.

With a tear in my eye, I'll sing Rocky Top one more time for you...

My sentiment exactly. Bruce, seniors, team...we could NOT be more proud of you. Not just for what you accomplished this weekend, but for who you are...who you've allowed yourselves to become this year. And we, the Vol Nation, are privileged to not just observe, but to truly share in the joy of what you've done as part of us. Thanks for your hard work, patience, endurance, and faithfulness. And GBO!!

jigman writes:

Very good year. I remember lying in my bed at night and listening to John Ward on the radio paint the picture of the game to the listener. I was a young guy then. I am 45 now and have never been a fan of moral victories until now. Even with all of the great players that have came through Knoxville we have always been a piece or two shy of truly an elite program.
Deep down inside we all knew it. I can honestly say I do not feel that way anymore. Be patient my Tennessee freinds. With patience comes success. If you continue to knock on the door it will open.....

UTVOLSRROCKN writes:

My dear Vols,
You will never know how much this season has meant to me. I have been a die-hard fan all my life, but this years team was something special. I have had a very difficult year with the death of my brother and my health.

You have given me joy, when there was sorrow. You have given me happiness, when there was pain. You have given me a reason to get excited, when I was depressed. You sat an example of what to do when life gets you down.

You never gave up. You worked stronger and harder. You played with more desire and intensity. You overcame adversity and showed the nation how great you are. I watched every game this season, every single minute, every single second. I saw what you accomplished along with everyone else.

Hold your heads proud and high. What a fantastic season! You never gave up, you gave it everything you had, and then some more. Thank you for all you have done for me and I'm pretty sure the whole Vol Nation!

I am truly sad to see the seniors leave. Wayne, you are now my favorite Vol basketball player of my entire life and will be forever. JP, you are right there behind him with the way you turned yourself around this year. Bobby, I will always remember you too as a great Vol. I wish you ALL the best in your life and your future.

Coach Pearl, you have done one heck of a job since your arrival to UT. I know that we are truly blessed to have you as our coach. There is not another coach out there that could do what you have done, especially with the circumstances that occured this year. I want to thank you also, for giving a spark to my life. Please stay at Tennessee. This is where you will always belong.

Thanks for the wonderful season and the wonderful memories that you have all given to me. May God bless you all! I will close now by signing out the way I always do.................
VOLS.....TCB.....KEEP ON KEEPING ON...GBO!!!!!!!

salute_to_the_hill writes:

Thanks so much guys....you made my freshman year here so memorable. The fight and heart you have is unrivaled in sports. Keep those heads held high and always know that "it's great to be a Tennessee Vol"!!!

Canadavol writes:

What a great run! I went to Providence and had a blast and was planning on heading to Indy next weekend. March Madness is incredible. I had a number of my fiends,up here, pulling for the Vols. I gave them no choice. Better then the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Salpointe writes:

WoW! Brian Williams - what a game you played. All of our guys played well but Brian was awsome! Looking forward to watching you again next year.

lomas98 writes:

I hope everyone realizes how hard it is to make a final four, with the exception it seems being Michigan St. It could be awhile before we are back at this point or we could make the elite 8 every year. Our program has improved by leaps and bounds since Pearl arrived. I will take getting to the NCAA tournament every year and then see what happens. Other big time programs go through this. For as good as Duke as been they haven't been to a final four in 5 years. I am proud of the team and Pearl leading us. We may not play every game well and we will lose some, but this is what college basketball is all about. I hope the NCAA doesn't make the mistake of expanding the tournament or it will be even harder to advance. I know I have spent more money traveling and buying tickets following this basketball program over the last 4 years than I have spent on football. When a program is doing everything right, it is easy to do that. I am making my plans to hopefully go to New York next year for the NIT instead of planning for a football game.

HtownVol writes:

W. Chism...4 years ago you were part of maybe the best recruiting class ever to sign with UT. 4 years later, we have only one player left from that class and NO VOL fan will replace you with ANYONE! Thank you SO MUCH!!!!

To the remaining VOLS and next years class, you have the best coach in the country and on paper you will be much more talented than this year. All you need is the heart. If you can match the heart of Wayne Chism, you will go on to win everything.

And Scotty, I think all fans and mainly yourself need you to set a goal for yourself this offseason. Become the player you are capable of being. You can be one of the best players in the country, we all know you lack confidence...WHY??? You can score at will and have the size to defend any guard in the country.

VOL fans. we have to support our team more than ever next year to show that UT is here to stay!

GO VOLS!!

PennVol writes:

Hard to call it a great season with our inconsistency but this team peaked during the NCAA tournament and made an awesome run!

Looking to next year, a couple of things I hope Coach Pearl can decipher: 1) How to get the team up and focused for every single game and 2) How to become a 75% free throw shooting team.

Great run, Vols!!

tmartin writes:

"We were no SEC football school that was rounding out a field.''

Probably because we are no longer a SEC Football school.

volonthehill writes:

in response to PennVol:

Hard to call it a great season with our inconsistency but this team peaked during the NCAA tournament and made an awesome run!

Looking to next year, a couple of things I hope Coach Pearl can decipher: 1) How to get the team up and focused for every single game and 2) How to become a 75% free throw shooting team.

Great run, Vols!!

Your alias should be Debby Downer. Are you one of those mid-level managers that insists on giving pep talks about how tough the coming year will be during a celebration of the previous year's accomplishments?

This was a great season. We made it to the elite eight!!! Do you not comprehend the significance of that?

shoelessvol#236864 writes:

I remember years ago listening to the Vols on WNOX, because there was no Vol Network, under the covers, because I was suppose to be asleep. Doc Blanchard was the annoucer then John Ward. I have NEVER been as proud as I have been this year!! We are a basketball school!! We WILL be back!!

Thanks for the GREAT memories!! The heartache now will turn to hope, and hope springs eternal! Rocky Top you'll ALWAYS be home sweet home to me! Good ole Rocky Top, Rocky Top TENNESSEE!!!

erinfan writes:

Thanks for the memories. My blood runs orange. Special thanks to Wayne, J.P., and Bobby. J.P., I know you have had some criticisms over the past year, but I think you have been one of the most exciting players I have seen, and I have been a bb fan for over 50 years. Thanks.

volguy#211935 writes:

It's Monday and I'm still hurting, but I am also so very proud of this team. I am so incredibly proud of Wayne Chism. I want to hug his big neck and thank him for his never-ending efforts to lead this team and for his four years of becoming one of my favorite Volunteers of all time. Thank you, Wayne, for all you've done.

Gumby#1381110 writes:

Best BB season ever as a Vol fan! One day we will be in a final 4 as long as CBP is our coach!

bkgunter writes:

The game was splayed at a very high level. The kids who are back next year understand what it will take to make the next step---the elevation of the Michigan State program is rare air----and this flawed, funky squad nearly made it to the top! Great to have CBP ! I'll never forget Wheezy and JP. And, as predicted, UT did better than expected, and UK worse.

licknpromise777#651578 writes:

Chism;Maze and Prince will be badly missed next year!!! It will be hard to wait 7 months for the return of Vol basketball..Next years team will be very different and we will probably see a different style of play.I believe the starting line up will be Goins;Tatum;Hopson;Harris and Williams..Brian and Goins will continue to get better and Scotty will have a different attitude because he will now be in a leadership role..Bringing in McRae and Golden could be the difference between a good team and a great team..I here these 2 are pure consistent outside shooters; something that kept us from the final 4..I believe Hall is destined to be a utility player off the bench; He just hasn't developed any shake and bake moves off the dribble that at this point come from natural ability rather than something that is coached.

bkgunter writes:

in response to PennVol:

Hard to call it a great season with our inconsistency but this team peaked during the NCAA tournament and made an awesome run!

Looking to next year, a couple of things I hope Coach Pearl can decipher: 1) How to get the team up and focused for every single game and 2) How to become a 75% free throw shooting team.

Great run, Vols!!

"Hard to call it a great season?" Maybe if you're tragically confused. "Up and focused for every single game?" Meaningless sports-talk gobbledygook. These guys train their asses off all year, play their asses off for months with brutal class and travel schedules---in close to forty games. Ever have on off two hours in your life over a stretch like that ? Michigan State lost to Carolina early in the season---Guess Izzo needs to work on getting them up and focused for every game. Wake up.

Gumby#1381110 writes:

in response to BIVOLAR_BEAR:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Yea Scotty Hopson was the only disappointment this season IMO. Hopson is going to have to step up next year with the loss of the 3 seniors. Brian Williams was the most improved player IMO.

VolunteerLifer writes:

Pearl has developed a real program at UT, and this team showed that our program takes a back seat to no one.

I see next year as a good year provided that there is significant off season improvement among certain returning players and that the freshmen can chip in some contibutions. Four of the five positions are 2 deep solid with returning players. The other position, the four, looks like it will be manned by two freshmen - Harris and Maymon - and that's always a dicey proposition. So we shall see. I'm so fired up over UT basketball I'm already countin the days til next season starts.

VolinCT writes:

in response to Gumby#1381110:

Yea Scotty Hopson was the only disappointment this season IMO. Hopson is going to have to step up next year with the loss of the 3 seniors. Brian Williams was the most improved player IMO.

Hopson's got to grow up and start showing up!

VolinCT writes:

in response to tmartin:

"We were no SEC football school that was rounding out a field.''

Probably because we are no longer a SEC Football school.

You got a rat in your pocket?

PennVol writes:

in response to bkgunter:

"Hard to call it a great season?" Maybe if you're tragically confused. "Up and focused for every single game?" Meaningless sports-talk gobbledygook. These guys train their asses off all year, play their asses off for months with brutal class and travel schedules---in close to forty games. Ever have on off two hours in your life over a stretch like that ? Michigan State lost to Carolina early in the season---Guess Izzo needs to work on getting them up and focused for every game. Wake up.

Yeah, but every team trains hard and deals with classes and traveling. We had some blow out losses against lesser talent and these let downs caused us to be a #6 seed. We finished 3rd in the SEC East and got drilled by Ky in the SEC tourney. I'm sure no one (including Pearl) thought we had a great season until our run in the NCAAs. I was simply trying to point out a couple of things that I hope we can address to help us consistently get past the Sweet 16.

rockytop4ever writes:

I cant say how proud I am of this team. JP stepped it up big time so did Chism. Just an all around great effort from the men. I am dang proud to wear my orange today! GBO! Thanks for the great season.

ms_allvol writes:

We have basketball at UT again, and as long as BP is the coach we will see more great seasons in the future. Thanks to the Sr's for a great run, I really enjoyed it.

volmot writes:

in response to PennVol:

Yeah, but every team trains hard and deals with classes and traveling. We had some blow out losses against lesser talent and these let downs caused us to be a #6 seed. We finished 3rd in the SEC East and got drilled by Ky in the SEC tourney. I'm sure no one (including Pearl) thought we had a great season until our run in the NCAAs. I was simply trying to point out a couple of things that I hope we can address to help us consistently get past the Sweet 16.

This isn't womens basketball. No one consistently gets to sweer 16 every year. Pearl has been here 5 years. Coach K and Izzo have been at their schools 15 years plus. You are going to have clunkers during the season. Kentucky with 4 lottery picks lost to South Carolina. MSU lost 4 games in a row during the jan-feb. The key is not to overeact to a loss like people on a message board do. The only team in the country whose fans have nothing to complain about is UCONN women because they haven't lost in 2 years. The most consistency I want from Pearl is on selection sunday not having to sweat wondering if we are going to get in the tournament.

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