ST. LOUIS - Tennessee's historic run in the NCAA tournament fell one step short of a trip to the Final Four Sunday afternoon in the Edward Jones Dome.
"There's nothing I can say that's going to make anybody from Tennessee feel better,'' said Bruce Pearl, who in his fifth season at UT has led the Vols to five NCAA tournament appearances and a first-ever trip to the Elite Eight. "I'm proud of my seniors and proud of our basketball program.''
Michigan State scored a dramatic 70-69 victory over the Vols in the Midwest Regional championship before an orange-dominated crowd of 25,242 and advances to play Butler on Saturday in Indianapolis.
The sixth-seeded Vols finish the season 28-9, with the 28 wins representing the second most wins (31) in school history. The fifth-seeded Spartans (28-8) will be playing in their sixth Final Four in the past 12 years.
Wayne Chism scored 13 points and J.P Prince added 12 to lead the Vols in scoring in the seniors' final appearances for the program.
The game was as competitive as anticipated, with physical play in the paint and a premium on execution.
The last-second drama played out after UT sophomore Scotty Hopson was fouled on a jump shot attempt near the top of the key with 11 seconds remaining, resulting in a trip to the free-throw line with Michigan State up 69-68.
Hopson, who finished with 10 points, tied the game at 69-69 by hitting his first free throw, but after a Michigan State timeout, he missed on his second attempt.
UT center Brian Williams (11 points) tipped the rebound high into the air, resulting in a mad scramble for possession.
The Spartans came up with it, just as they had on the majority of the other loose balls, with guard Korie Lucious securing possession in the corner near the 3-point line.
"If I had to point to anything, it would be the 50-50 (loose) balls,'' Pearl said, asked the determining factor in the game. "Then we didn't get back defensively, we didn't get matched up, and transition defense got us.''
Lucious passed to Draymond Green, who found an open Raymar Morgan (13 points, 10 rebounds) near the basket.
Williams anchored down between Morgan and the basket, and Prince came over to provide help defense.
Morgan pump-faked before going up with the shot, and an airborne Prince was whistled for a foul with 1.8 seconds remaining.
Morgan hit his first free throw to put Michigan State up 70-69 before intentionally missing the second shot.
Williams rebounded and called timeout with 1.6 seconds left, giving the Vols time to set up a final shot.
Chism inbounded to Prince who took a couple of quick dribbles before launching a shot from half-court that fell short as the buzzer sounded.
"You don't want it to come down to a half-court shot; you're just hoping for a prayer with that,'' Prince said. "It's a tough pill to swallow.''
Tennessee had extended its lead from 41-39 at the half to 50-45 when Chism hit a 3-pointer 15:43 remaining.
Michigan State battled back with a crucial 14-1 run, going up 59-51 at the 11:42 mark when Green scored three of his 13 points on a three-point play.
"They were capitalizing off of our missed shots or some of our bad play,'' Chism said.
But the Vols had more good plays left in them, too.
Tennessee rallied with an 11-2 run that Williams capped with a hook shot, putting UT back in front 62-61 with 6:05 left to play.
The teams exchanged the lead three more times before Hopson's free throw tied the game at 69-69.
"The second shot felt just like the first one I'd made, and I thought it was going in,'' Hopson said of his missed free throw. "I didn't step up ... I let the team down.''
Tennessee opened the game with its shooting ablaze; five different Vols combined to hit the team's first six attempts beyond the 3-point arc.
But Michigan State hung tough, with Regional MVP Durrell Summers scoring 10 of his game-high 21 points in the first half and the Spartans converting 11 second-chance points.
"I thought the big key for us was that we weathered that storm and we could say in the huddles, 'okay, they're going to cool off,' '' Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said.
The Vols shot 56 percent through the first half, but the Spartans' 17-10 rebounding edge enabled them to keep the game close.
"We stepped up physically in the second half and were able to get that fixed,'' said Pearl, whose team evened the rebounding at 27-27 by the game's end. "But we've been winning with defense and rebounding, and I felt we lost control of that game when they made some shots that we just didn't contest.
"It's hard to reflect right now ... these just stay with you forever. This is painful. This is disappointing.''