The Tennessee-Alabama battle for SEC supremacy lived up to its heavyweight billing.
The Vols (15-8, 5-3 SEC) rallied from an 11-point halftime deficit before the Crimson Tide knocked down all 10 of its free throws in overtime for a 65-60 men's basketball victory Saturday at Thompson-Boling Arena.
“It was a tournament-type of game,’’ UT wing Cameron Tatum said. “Going to overtime, lead changing and going back and forth, people tired and just gutting it out.’’
Alabama (15-7, 7-1) tightened its grip on the SEC West Division lead despite being held without a field goal in the final 4 minutes, 29 seconds of a game that was tied 55-55 at the end of regulation and in overtime.
It was the Vols’ final game under UT associate head coach Tony Jones, who has filled in for coach Bruce Pearl during Pearl’s eight-game SEC suspension.
UT also was without leading scorer Scotty Hopson (16.5 points per game), who remained sidelined by a sprained ankle suffered in practice last Tuesday.
The Vols were 4-of-20 shooting beyond the 3-point arc and matched their season-worst shooting effort at Charlotte (22-of-63) from the floor.
UT freshman Tobias Harris scored 19 points and pulled down 11 rebounds for his seventh double-double, and Tatum stepped up with 16 points.
But the Vols couldn’t convert a game-winning basket after Brian Williams stole the ball from Alabama’s JaMychal Green (14 points) with 18 seconds left.
UT called timeout with 12.1 seconds left, and Jones set up a play for Harris to get the ball near the basket.
“I caught it and tried backing my man down,’’ Harris said. “The guy guarding Skylar (McBee) doubled down on me, so I kicked it back because Skylar’s our best 3-point shooter.’’
McBee, who had a team-high three steals to go with six rebounds and nine points, didn’t want to rush a shot.
“Coach Jones told us not to give them a chance to score, and I couldn’t get a look at the clock,’’ McBee said. “I didn’t want to give Alabama a chance to get into transition if I did miss, and then Melvin’s (Goins) guy came over on me so I got it to him.’’
Goins missed an open 3-pointer from the top of the key.
Williams kept the play alive with a tip, and when that attempted didn’t fall, Harris came up with the rebound. Harris, well-guarded, threw up a desperation scoop after the buzzer.
“We had it, right there,’’ said Harris, who scored at the 9:25 mark to put the Vols up 45-44, capping a 13-2 run that gave the Vols their first lead since early in the first half. “We didn’t close it out.’’
Tennessee scored first in OT on a Williams tip and got the ball back after Tony Mitchell (24 points) missed a pair of shots.
Goins misfired on a 3-pointer, and the Tide surged back with a 6-0 run.
“When we went up two and got a stop,’’ Tatum said, “that was our moment to take over the game.’’
Alabama went up 63-58 with 23.5 seconds left on a pair of Trevor Releford (13 points) free throws, sending many to the exits.
Harris threw down a dunk with 15.9 seconds left to make it a one-possession game at 63-60.
The Tide got the ball inbounded after a UT timeout and Green iced the game with a pair of free throws.
Pearl, watching on TV, said the key was Alabama taking a 38-27 lead into the half on the strength of 66.7 percent shooting.
“Alabama is a terrific defensive team, but they’re not a great offensive team, and to give them transition points and confidence early was factor,’’ Pearl said. “You’re not going to win when the other team shoots 67 percent in a half, and you’re not going to beat one of the best defensive teams in the country unless you get more balance offensively.
“We missed Scotty, for sure.’’
UT returns to action at 9 p.m. Tuesday (TV: ESPN) at No. 10 Kentucky.