It was the first sellout in Thompson Bowling Arena in three years, the first time two ranked teams faced off on location in eight years, but the same opponent the Vols had faced in just one year.
Tennessee fell to the eventual-champion North Carolina Tar Heels within the final seconds in 2016 and with a better roster and more experience - 2017 was their shot at revenge.
Riding a raucous crowd filled with all kinds of frenetic energy, Tennessee started hot from the floor. Jordan Bowden got a steal on North Carolina's first possession and finished the play off with a nice transition slam to get the Vols rolling. Jordan Bone and James Daniel were both major contributors from both the inside and outside, scoring eight and nine (three 3-pointers for Daniel) to build an early 20-12 lead for the Vols.
It wouldn’t take long for the Tar Heels to show up though. Joel Berry II hit two outside shots to help put together a 7-0 run to get the Tar Heels right back into the game midway through the first half.
Tennessee’s defense and pressure was the difference early on though. They were able to force eight quick turnovers in the first 12 minutes of the game, turning those opportunities into points on the other end.
The Vols rode this quick-tempo attack and good defense to a 38-30 lead in the first half that included 12 turnovers for the Tar Heels.
The second half started out well with Tennessee getting a big offensive rebound that led to Admiral Schofield's first three-point shot of the game. North Carolina's Luke Maye answered right back with a quick layup on the other end though, but that was just the beginning of a major offensive series between both teams that saw them combine to score on eight out of the next 11 possessions.
But Tennessee's eight-point lead soon dwindled down to three after multiple scoreless possessions and the simple fact that UNC out-physicaled the Vols in order to get within a single score of tying the game up.
The Tar Heels were able to get the lead back after multiple offensive rebounds led to both a free-throw attempt and a three-point shot to give UNC a 53-51 lead. It wasn't enough to keep the Vols down however, as Chris Darrington hit a three-pointer on the next possession to reclaim the lead for Tennessee, 54-53.
UNC kept the Vols' lead to one until a big offensive possession by Tennessee resulted in Bowden hitting a three-point shot that put the Vols up by four, 64-60.
North Carolina was able to pull within a single possession after a few missed offensive opportunities and eventually drew a foul on the Vols. However, UNC forward Sterling Manley missed both free throws and the Vols held onto a two-point lead despite not scoring on 10 of their previous 12 possessions.
Tennessee was able to overcome North Carolina's suffocating defense and an eight-minute scoring drought until forward Garrison Brooks hit his third shot of the game to give UNC a 67-66 lead with just 2:30 left to go in the game.
But three straight fouls on UNC gave Tennessee a chance to regain the lead and Bowden did just that, hitting both of his free throws to put the Vols ahead by one, 68-67.
A huge defensive play by Schofield and the Vols led to a major turnover by the Tar Heels and gave Tennessee the ball with under 1:30 to play. The ball was deflected by Schofield and bounced off of Manley's hand, resulting in UT's possession.
The play was initially ruled in UNC's favor, but hard lobbying by Schofield resulted in the official's review of the play. It led to even bigger dividends after forward Grant Williams hit his seventh shot of the night to give the Vols a 70-67 lead.
As with all championship teams though, you have to learn how to close them out when the opportunity arises. You have to put your foot on their neck and twist when they are down, and the Vols could not do so.
UNC was able to get yet another foul called on Tennessee, which resulted in two quick free throws by Berry. Head coach Roy Williams then proceeded to catch the Vols off guard with a full-court pressure call on the next possession. Tennessee turned the ball over and after review, guard Kenny Williams' three-point shot was ruled good and gave the Tar Heels the lead at 72-70 with under :30 seconds left in the game.
The Vols were unable to generate any more offense and the Tar Heels ended up leaving TBA with a 78-73 win over the Vols. Tennessee is now 7-2 on the season with a home game against Furman coming up on Wednesday.