Ohio played so well in every minute of the Georgetown upset, you had to wonder if they could duplicate that feat - both in terms of their shooting percentages, and their energy. We liked this matchup for Tennessee coming in, but in March you never know. And sure enough, Ohio came out with guns blazing yet again, scoring 10 points in the first four minutes, and knocking down four of their first seven three pointers.
But unlike Georgetown, Tennessee played with them step for step, getting off to an equally hot start that gave us an 18-18 tie at the under 12 timeout. From there, Ohio seemed to hit the wall. Tennessee did not.
The Bobcats get a standing-o for their late season run, and they created lots of memories for themselves in winning the MAC Tournament and upsetting the three seed Georgetown. Little stories like theirs are part of what makes this opening weekend so great. But Tennessee made sure their little story didn't become a big one. And when Ohio's tank was empty, the Vols stepped on the gas.
This was an "old school" BruceBall effort, with several lightning-quick runs that put enough separation between the two teams for the Vols to stay loose. The first came after that second media timeout, and was the result of Tennessee continuing to play great defense: a 16-2 run was helped along by a CHI$$LE! and a five point burst from Cameron Tatum on consecutive possessions, and Ohio committed six turnovers during that span. It helped the Vols to an eleven point halftime lead.
Replenishing their tanks in the locker room, Ohio again played with the Vols through the first two media timeouts, working the lead down to five at 50-45 with 13:03 to play. Tennessee kept them around a little longer this time, but the Bobcats could get it no closer...and then with the Vols up 11 with five minutes to play, UT's final run sealed the deal.
The Vols went on a 12-3 spurt, this one sparked by a Scotty Hopson three, and when Ohio tried to turn up their defensive pressure, Tennessee broke it repeatedly with dunks in transition, and broke the Bobcats once and for all. The Vols pushed the lead to 83-63 before Ohio scored the game's final points in an 83-68 victory. It sends a spirited Ohio team home...and sends Tennessee to the Sweet 16 for the third time in four years.
Unlike the balanced and fairly even matchup we saw Thursday night, today we knew where our advantage was, and we used it: our perimeter length really bothered Ohio's shooters, creating a night-and-day difference from the Georgetown game:
- Armon Bassett: 9 of 17 vs. Georgetown, 2 of 10 vs. UT
- D.J. Cooper: 8 of 12 vs. Georgetown, 5 of 13 vs. UT
- Entire team: 58.2% FG, 56.5% 3PT vs. Georgetown, 37.9% FG, 38.5% 3PT vs. UT
On the other end of the floor, we also knew we'd have a huge advantage inside, and yet again we used it: the Vols owned the paint, outrebounding Ohio 39-28 and crushing them in points in the paint. And while Ohio was running out of gas, the Vols used their depth and got quality from everywhere:
- J.P. Prince 18 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists
- Scotty Hopson 17 points (7 of 9 from the floor)
- Wayne Chism 9 points 12 rebounds
- Brian Williams 8 points 12 rebounds
- Josh Bone 7 points 4 rebounds
- Bobby Maze 9 assists 4 rebounds
The Vols shot 56.7% from the floor, and had 34 made baskets on 21 assists. Tennessee played sensational halfcourt defense on Ohio throughout, and then got out and ran when given the opportunity on the other end. It translates into a complete effort that sends Tennessee to the tournament's second weekend.
When all of this is over, we'll sit back and think about what a great season this team has had (they're now tied with the 2000 team for the second-most wins in school history at 27-8), and what an unbelievable job Bruce Pearl has done with this program. But right now, it's not over. The Vols will get either (2) Ohio State or (10) Georgia Tech on Friday night in St. Louis, with yet another chance to make it to the Elite Eight for the first time in school history.
We'll focus on the overall story when it's over. And we'll start looking at the Buckeyes or the Yellow Jackets next week. But for now, let's celebrate. The tournament is headed for its second weekend...and the Vols are still standing.