Mike Strange: Vols have had some special NCAA moments

Mike Strange
Chuck Burton/Associated Press
Tennessee’s Chris Lofton jumps in the air after hitting the game winning shot with less than one second remaining in regulation in the second half of an NCAA first round game against Winthrop at the Greensboro Coliseum in Greensboro, N.C. on March 16, 2006.

Chuck Burton/Associated Press Tennessee’s Chris Lofton jumps in the air after hitting the game winning shot with less than one second remaining in regulation in the second half of an NCAA first round game against Winthrop at the Greensboro Coliseum in Greensboro, N.C. on March 16, 2006.

“Bradshaw looks. Still Looking. Throws the ball to Lofton. Lofton in the corner, fall-away for the win ... GOOD!”

On the whole, Tennessee’s men’s NCAA tournament history isn’t especially glorious. There have been, however, glorious games and moments achieved by Vols down through the years.

One of them — Chris Lofton’s buzzer-beater against Winthrop in 2006 — is described above by Bob “Voice of the Vols” Kesling.

I can’t do them all justice in one swoop but I will squeeze in as many as space allows.

If you had to pick one player to anchor your All-Vol NCAA tournament team, start with Ernie Grunfeld. In his two games — both losses — Grunfeld averaged 31 points and 10 rebounds.

Except for the final score, no Vol ever had a better day than Grunfeld did against VMI in 1976 when he scored 36 points on 13-of-23 shooting and 10-of-13 free throws.

He had 26 points and 12 boards the following year in an overtime loss to Syracuse.

Bernard King is UT’s greatest player ever, but his one tournament game, the ‘77 loss to Syracuse, was merely routine. Of course for King, routine was 23 points and 12 boards.

In 1980, Reggie Johnson had a near-Grunfeldian game against Furman and got a win to boot. Johnson was 13-of-19 from the field en route to 28 points and 14 rebounds.

Poor Furman. That same day, Howard Wood set the school tournament record (minimum 10 attempts) by hitting nine-of-11 shots, 81.8 percent.

Johnson’s day was no fluke. In five NCAA tournament games for Don DeVoe, Johnson averaged 19.8 points and 8.4 boards. That average ranks third behind Grunfeld and Ron Widby, who averaged 21.5 in two 1967 games (the second a consolation round).

In 1981, Dale Ellis made 10-of-13 shots in a win over VCU. If he’d been 9-of-13, Tennessee might have lost. His final basket delivered a 58-56 overtime win.

I didn’t see that game-winner, but I can’t imagine it was more difficult than one I did witness, Lofton’s twisting, well-guarded jumper from the baseline with 0.4 seconds left to beat Winthrop 63-61.

Lofton averaged 16.3 points in eight tournament games. If Tennessee needed a free throw in the clutch, Lofton is the guy I’d want at the line. He was 22-of-24, 91.7 percent.

In a tense 2007 second-round thriller against Virginia, he went 6-for-6 in the final 18.5 seconds to ice the 77-74 win.

Another good option at the stripe? Michael Brooks was 15-of-16 and was clutch in preserving a 1982 win over Southwest Louisiana and a 1983 squeaker over Marquette.

I’d be remiss not to mention C.J. Black. Let’s have a hand for a big guy who hit 83.9 percent of his tourney free throws. He was 10-of-10 in a hard-earned win over ULL in 2000.

If you need a 3-pointer to pull one out of the fire, Lofton comes to mind first. Not so fast, though.

In NCAA play, Lofton was a modest 32.5 percent from the arc. The guy you want is JaJuan Smith. He hit 47.8 percent of his 3-balls (22-of-46).

One day in Providence, Melvin Goins saved the Vols by going 4-of-5 from 3-point range against a surprised San Diego State to launch the 2010 Elite Eight run.

No Vol was ever more of an enabler than Bert Bertelkamp was against Maryland in 1980. His 16 assists helped Johnson and Gary Carter score 21 apiece and still stands as the UT record for all games.

Wayne Chism played in more tournament games (11), scored more points (136) and grabbed more rebounds (57) than any other Vol. His finest hour was 22 points and 11 boards in UT’s only Sweet 16 win, over Ohio State in 2010.

The Vols sat this one out. The question is who’s got next?

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Comments » 7

CoverOrange writes:

Noticeable gaps from 1983 to 2000 then to 2006. Question may not be "who" but "when" is next. The pieces are there for next year.

claiborneh writes:

Ironically, if Florida beats Michigan, TN would have beat 2 teams this season that are in the Final Four. Go figure.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to claiborneh:

Ironically, if Florida beats Michigan, TN would have beat 2 teams this season that are in the Final Four. Go figure.

Basketball these days is just a crazy game, but there's no substitute for getting them when you need them. Just shows the overwhelming importance of the psychological aspect of the game. Hopefully, the maturity of next year's squad will allow it to do its best every game instead of being up and down, the way they have been too much in these last two years. It's not for nothing that most of the real contenders year in and year out have lots of experienced players--and coaches--leading the way.

volthrunthru#658770 writes:

Uh...so...a coach going into his 3rd year is going to renegotiate his contract when he still cannot spel NCAA, as NCAA Tournament.

He has to have remedial help to spell NIT, apparently, because his people looked asleep, except for the seniors, in both NIT debacles.

Johnson is not ready for the NCAA---and neither are his teams.

Not someday.
Not next year.
Not soon.
Not "we're working on it."
Not "they got better down the stretch."
Not "they got better as the season wore on."

-Good teams and coaches get to the NCAA.
-Better teams&coaches win in the NCAA.
-Great teams&coaches go to the Eite 8 in the NCAA.
-The best go further in the the NCAA...as in "Final 4"

Notice that nowhere does it say give a coach a raise who cannot raise a team to win enough to get into the NCAA. Fact is, he is being defiant to his critics.

Only people running a misdirected athletics program give raises to under-performers.

Martin appears to be going for the raise in order to silence his critics, because if he can get a big raise---or even a small one---the critics may just shut up, thinking nobody is holding him responsible...or that nobody can get to him---that Martin is untouchable...and his critics---a growing number---will be silenced by the apparent vote to show him the money.

Just what UT needs, another high-dollar, defiant athletics offical.

If he were one of Jones's football scholarship athetes, Jones would have him doing laps for "stealing from the university," which is what Jones reportedly accused one under-performer of doing.

Reward excelence and superior performance,not meaningless exercises and underperforming teams and coaches.

Go Vols. Go Away Martin & company.

trl_x writes:

If I'm not mistaken the Dale Ellis winner against VCU was an uncontested 20 to 25 footer from the right wing.

Probably the first hint of what the NBA had in store for him.

The two tournament games King and Grunfeld lost just about killed me. Especially Syracuse. I was just a kid then but that game still pains me to this day.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to volthrunthru#658770:

Uh...so...a coach going into his 3rd year is going to renegotiate his contract when he still cannot spel NCAA, as NCAA Tournament.

He has to have remedial help to spell NIT, apparently, because his people looked asleep, except for the seniors, in both NIT debacles.

Johnson is not ready for the NCAA---and neither are his teams.

Not someday.
Not next year.
Not soon.
Not "we're working on it."
Not "they got better down the stretch."
Not "they got better as the season wore on."

-Good teams and coaches get to the NCAA.
-Better teams&coaches win in the NCAA.
-Great teams&coaches go to the Eite 8 in the NCAA.
-The best go further in the the NCAA...as in "Final 4"

Notice that nowhere does it say give a coach a raise who cannot raise a team to win enough to get into the NCAA. Fact is, he is being defiant to his critics.

Only people running a misdirected athletics program give raises to under-performers.

Martin appears to be going for the raise in order to silence his critics, because if he can get a big raise---or even a small one---the critics may just shut up, thinking nobody is holding him responsible...or that nobody can get to him---that Martin is untouchable...and his critics---a growing number---will be silenced by the apparent vote to show him the money.

Just what UT needs, another high-dollar, defiant athletics offical.

If he were one of Jones's football scholarship athetes, Jones would have him doing laps for "stealing from the university," which is what Jones reportedly accused one under-performer of doing.

Reward excelence and superior performance,not meaningless exercises and underperforming teams and coaches.

Go Vols. Go Away Martin & company.

Just another exercise of your matchless ability to add two and two and come up with nine billion.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to trl_x:

If I'm not mistaken the Dale Ellis winner against VCU was an uncontested 20 to 25 footer from the right wing.

Probably the first hint of what the NBA had in store for him.

The two tournament games King and Grunfeld lost just about killed me. Especially Syracuse. I was just a kid then but that game still pains me to this day.

Is that the game Bernard missed because he had a sprained ankle? I know one of his teams suffered that fate. The fact that none of those Bernie & Ernie teams ever did much in the NCAAs just shows how hard it is for even the best teams to succeed in tourney play. You either have to be really, really good or really, really lucky, and preferably both at the same time.

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