Look who's No. 1!
By Randy Moore
Irony No. 1: The undersized Vols won the backboards 50-34 against a Tiger team that carried a rebound margin of plus 7.8.
Irony No. 2: The high-scoring Vols prevailed despite coming up 18 points short of their season's average.
Irony No. 3: The Vols, not known as a great road team, beat a Memphis program that had won 47 consecutive home games.
Irony No. 4: J.P. Prince, hitting just 46.7 percent from the foul line coming in, calmly sank both ends of a 1 and 1 to give the Vols a 64-61 lead with 8.8 seconds left.
Irony No. 5: Chris Lofton, 2 of 11 from the field in one of his worst games ever, sealed the win by nailing two free throws with 2.9 seconds remaining.
Irony No. 6: Prince, a Memphis native who slipped away from the Tigers, doomed his hometown university by producing 13 points and 8 rebounds – all in the second half.
“The first half I wasn't playing like myself,” Prince said on the post-game show. “I was letting the game come to me. The second half I knew I had to (assert) myself in the game and win. I refuse to come home and lose.”
As the son of a former Tiger assistant coach and a one-time ball boy for the Memphis basketball program, Prince conceded that the win was extra special for him.
“Coach (Bruce) Pearl told us to go out there and rebound like your life depends on it,” Prince noted. “In my case, it did depend on it. I'm from Memphis, and this means everything to me. They (Memphis players) just go to school here but I grew up here and live here, so this meant more to me than it did to them.”
Tyler Smith, who hit two late baskets as Tennessee turned a 61-58 deficit into a 62-61 lead, finished with 16 points and 6 rebounds to pace the Vols, who improve to 25-2. Wayne Chism chipped in 13 points and 7 rebounds. JaJuan Smith added 9 points and a team-high 10 rebounds. Lofton scored just 7 points and was 0 for 4 from beyond the arc.
Freshman Derrick Rose had 23 points and Chris Douglas-Roberts 14 for the Tigers, who saw a 45-game regular-season winning streak snapped.
Ultimately, poise was the difference for the Vols.
They didn't panic when Memphis raced to a quick 17-11 lead.
They didn't panic when the Tigers drained 7 of their first 11 shots from 3-point range. (Memphis would make just 1 of 16 thereafter.)
They didn't panic when the Tigers used a 10-2 spurt to grab a 61-58 lead with 2:28 left.
After a drive by Douglas-Roberts gave Memphis its 61-58 lead, Tyler Smith scored on a nifty inside move with 2:11 left, then on a spinning 10-footer as the Vols surged ahead 62-61 with 26.5 seconds to go.
When Memphis' Antonio Anderson badly missed on a forced 12-footer, Prince rebounded and was fouled with 0:08.8 to go. The front end of his 1 and 1 ricocheted off the rim four times before dropping. The second shot swished, giving the Vols a three-point lead.
Tennessee purposely fouled Rose with 4.5 seconds left. Rose hit the first free throw, then – as strategy dictates – purposely missed the second. Lofton got the long rebound, however, and was fouled. Both free throws dropped, thereby dropping Memphis (26-1) from the ranks of the unbeaten and lifting Tennessee to No. 1.
Prince believes Tennessee's work ethic was a big key in the victory.
“We wake up at 6 in the morning every day, and I know nobody works harder than us,” he said. “That's what paid off in the end.