On a night designated to pay tribute to the late coach Ray Mears, Tennessee pulled out all the stops.
There were orange blazers scattered around Thompson-Boling Arena. The Mears family and a gaggle of former players took the court at halftime. Highlight clips on the JumboTron relived some of the good old days.
And, brother, those were some eye-catching throwback, orange-and-white striped warmup suits.
But the purest form of tribute to the memory of Ray Mears on Thursday night was the way the Vols gutted out a 69-60 win over 23rd-ranked Wichita State.
"We can't allow anybody to come in our house and beat us,'' said guard Trae Golden. "It was Ray Mears' night so we had to make sure we came out with the 'W.' "
Mears, who coached his last game in 1977, would have approved. But so did his current counterpart, Cuonzo Martin, who presumably has many games yet to coach.
The famously even-keeled Martin doesn't like to build up one game more than another. But make no mistake, this was a big win.
"I told the guys it was a must win before the game,'' said Golden, who carried the scoring load with 25 points. "I knew it was a must win.''
Is it jumping the gun to describe any mid-December non-conference game as a must win?
I'm going with Golden here and making a case for must-win given the context of Tennessee's season to date.
The Vols had played three hi-quality opponents and not beaten any of them. Losing to Oklahoma State in Puerto Rico last month wasn't so critical.
But after falling short at Georgetown and Virginia prior to an eight-day layoff, another loss to the Shockers would have been a blow to both Tennessee's midseason confidence and its postseason resume.
Instead, a win that is a much-needed feather in UT's orange cap. The Shockers might not hail from a so-called power conference but this should stand up as a power win for the Vols all the way to March.
Wichita had already won at VCU, and beaten DePaul, Iowa and Tulsa on the way to a 9-0 start, which is why the Shockers were packing a hefty No. 18 RPI.
"On our schedule,'' said Martin, "I wondered why we were doing this? I knew what they bring to the table.''
And they were bringing it to the table right as the Vols were trying to fight their way out of an offensive funk.
They scored 74 points against Georgetown and Virginia. Not 74 against each — 74 combined.
Wichita State isn't the kind of team against which you count on getting well. Coach Gregg Marshall's guys contest every shot, every pass, every rebound.
Martin turned that to UT's advantage by demanding his guards be aggressive and attack the rim.
"We took a lot of time since the last two losses of attacking off the dribble,'' Martin said. "We need to be aggressive, get in the paint and make the referee make a call. We did that tonight.''
The result was 36 free throws. The Vols rose to the occasion and hit 29 of them. That would have gotten a thumbs-up from Mears.
So, final exams are over in the classroom. And Thursday night was essentially a final exam on the court. Everybody can take a deep breath now.
Those 30-something scoring funks are put to bed. Tennessee at last has a worthy win over a quality opponent.
"We've got to take this win and run with it into January,'' said Jordan McRae, who contributed 17 vital points off the bench.''
Said Golden, "We don't really put pressure on ourselves, but Georgetown, Virginia, we could have won those games.''
They won this one. Keep hope alive.