Cuonzo Martin challenged Jarnell Stokes.
Coach told player three things: Ball screen. Switch. Don't leave your feet.
Broadening his view, the Tennessee men's basketball coach told his troops, "You've been here before, guys, at some point we have to pull one out."
Nearly 12 long seconds and a one-point lead hung on the Thompson-Boling Arena scoreboard. A Saturday afternoon crowd of 18,791 awaited either another are-you-kidding-me near-miss loss or a relief-soaked win.
Coming out of its huddle, Alabama played out the script penned by Martin.
Trevor Lacey shouldered by a ball screen. Stokes switched. He lugged his 6-foot-8, 270-pound frame alongside the quick 6-foot-3 guard, staying on his feet for multiple pump shots. Finally, Lacey leaned into him, forcing a shot. Stokes, feet planted, stood with his arms out.
Tennessee 54, Alabama 53.
"Coach called it all the way," Stokes said, grinning after notching his fifth double-double of the season with 15 points and a career-high 18 rebounds. "That's exactly what he said they were going to run."
Bolstered by 15 second-half points by Jordan McRae, the Vols earned a win they desperately needed. Entering the game, they were 1-7 when trailing with 10 minutes remaining.
Alabama led by seven with 6:08 to go Saturday.
Losers in five of its last six, Tennessee (10-8, 2-4 SEC) finally found a way.
"We've been playing good basketball, we just haven't been making the plays we need to make down the stretch," said McRae, who finished with 17 points on 6-of-13 shooting in a game-high 38 minutes.
Martin called it a "15-pound weight off the shoulders."
The Vols held Alabama (12-7, 4-2) to 2-for-9 shooting over the final nine minutes and the Tide aided UT by missing three free throws in the final five.
Tennessee's Trae Golden hit two decisive free throws with 32 seconds remaining. He missed the front end of a one-and-one, though, with 15 ticks to go.
"Not turning the ball over, knocking down free throws — they're the simple things at the end of the day that end up altering a game," said Golden, who handled the bulk of the Tide's pressure defense to close the game.
Alabama led by as many as 10 in the first half, holding the Vols to 9-for-28 shooting. UT opened the second half by making six of its first nine shots.
The Tide continued to answer until the closing frame.
Palms out, shoulders shrugged, Stokes offered a wide smile after hitting an unthinkable fall-away jumper with the shot clock expiring to give UT a 50-47 lead with 2:25 left.
After Lacey answered with a 3-pointer to tie it, McRae hopped, skipped and jumped down the lane to toss in a floater. It gave the Vols a 52-50 lead with under a minute left.
Asked after the game if he traveled, McRae nearly eye-rolled himself out of his chair.
"Man, those are two long steps, I'm 6-foot-6," he said.
Trevor Releford paced Alabama with 18 points, including a big 3-pointer that answered McRae's runner.
The Vols outrebounded Bama, 37-22. They grabbed 15 offensive boards, producing 17 second-chance points.
Stokes was responsible for eight of the offensive rebounds. Called for just two fouls in a season-high 35 minutes, the sophomore forward physically dominated the Tide.
"If he's allowed to be aggressive and do the things he needs to do, he's a special talent," said Martin, who recently lobbied for SEC officials to pay closer attention on "soft" fouls called against Stokes and no-calls when he's on offense.
"I was shocked when I went into halftime with no fouls," Stokes said. "I was able to play free."
And because of that, he played to the end.
"Normally we'd go five guards and switch everything (on the final possession), but I thought Jarnell had such a tremendous game, let's keep him out there," Martin said. "It's just fitting that he was that guy to get that stop."
Brendan F. Quinn covers Tennessee men's basketball. Follow him at Twitter.com/BFQuinn