In the first half, this game reeked of same old, same old: Alabama led 36-22 at the break, the Vols couldn’t score against what was the 12th best defense in the nation in KenPom, and on top of that the Tide were 7-of-9 from the arc in the first 20 minutes. Bama pushed the lead to 16 90 seconds into the second half.
The run, appropriately, was sparked by a Lew Evans three.
After scoring 22 points in the first half, the Vols put up 15 in less than five minutes by attacking Alabama’s defense inside. Down 40-24 before Evans’ three at 17:06, the Vols had it to 44-42 at 12:22 thanks to inside-the-arc buckets from Shembari Phillips, Admiral Schofield, Lamonte Turner, Jordan Bowden, and a pair of dunks from Grant Williams.
As Alabama’s defense stiffened inside, the Vols went back to the three. And after three weeks and one first half of horrific shooting, the percentages swung hard in Tennessee’s favor.
Lamonte Turner hit a three to pull the Vols within one with ten minutes to play. Grant Williams knocked in one as the shot clock wound down to give the Vols the lead with 8:35 to go. The Vols then went almost five minutes without scoring, but their defense kept them in it. Bama’s run was only 6-0 in that stretch, and a huge effort play by Shembari Phillips, racing back on defense to get a steal with 3:50 to go, set the table for an unlikely final stretch.
On the other end of the floor, Lew Evans knocked in a second three to pull the Vols within two. Two Bama misses bookended a Vol turnover, but with two minutes to play great ball movement found Admiral Schofield as the shot clock wound down, and he buried a three to put the Vols up one.
And on the next three possessions, Lew Evans took a charge, splashed a three, and blocked a shot. His line on senior day: 13 points, three threes, five rebounds, and two blocks. It is the first time he’s scored in double figures in a Tennessee uniform.
Alabama missed a free throw to leave Tennessee’s lead a three, then the Vols shattered the Tide press leading to an Admiral Schofield dunk for the exclamation point.
In the final 17:06 the Vols outscored Alabama 35-14. And the Vols get a big momentum-changing win, 59-54.
It’s only the third time this year Tennessee has won with less than 16 assists, but their 12 look much better when paired with only seven turnovers. Rick Barnes put Shembari Phillips in the point guard role, and while he didn’t create on his own he also kept the ball much safer than his freshman counterparts. Jordan Bowden deserves praise for creating: six assists along with six rebounds, impacting the game in large ways despite finishing with only four points. It was a tough 1-for-7 senior day for Robert Hubbs, but I think he was okay with it:
MOOD: pic.twitter.com/7KcvJ6gdPg— Tennessee Basketball (@Vol_Hoops) March 4, 2017
The Vols nudge above .500 at 16-15, and will finish ninth in the SEC at 8-10. They’ll get one of Georgia, Ole Miss, or Vanderbilt on Thursday at 1:00 PM in the SEC Tournament, then get Kentucky if victorious.
They’ll probably need to be victorious to keep NIT hopes alive, but today’s second half resurrected those hopes in a big way. The Vols go to 58 in KenPom and 79 in RPI; home wins over a team like Alabama don’t do you any favors in the latter, but neutral site wins will and a neutral loss to Kentucky might actually help. We’ll see what happens there depending on how other conference tournaments go and how many automatic NIT bids are snatched up, but the Vols are at least in the conversation.
And today helps re-frame the narrative of the season around progress and tangible success. The team picked to finish 13th in the league won’t be playing on Wednesday in Nashville, and could still play beyond Nashville if next week is kind.
Always good to beat Bama in anything. Go Vols.