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Battle-tested Vols prove they’re ready to win big

Tennessee’s experience won out yesterday.

NCAA Basketball: Gonzaga at Tennessee Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Not that Tennessee needed the validation, but did they ever get it on Sunday afternoon in Phoenix. The Vols toppled top-ranked Gonzaga without Lamonte Turner and with star Grant Williams on the bench with five fouls. Admiral Schofield found his shooting stroke once again, hitting six three-pointers to keep the Vols alive.

On Tennessee’s final possession, Schofield hit the dagger, giving the Vols a 76-73 lead that they would never give up.

“I will tell you, when he shot, I just thought about how many hours he has spent in the gym and I have sat at that desk in the gym for four years now watching him work at it,” Barnes said after the game. “He is going to make shots and he’s not afraid of that moment.”

That moment is something that Tennessee has already seen a couple of times this year. Tennessee came out on the right side of a close game against Louisville, then didn’t have enough in a game against Kansas. It was an eerily similar situation against the Jayhawks. This time, Schofield, along with some help from Jordan Bowden, got the job done.

“We relied on our older guys here at the end,” Barnes said. “Admiral played big. Toughness is a big word used in sports. One of them is when you’re not shooting the ball well, but staying with it and taking your shots. He did that. It was probably the difference in the game.”

Tennessee ended up shooting 40 percent from the field. But when you took Williams off the floor, Schofield was about the only thing the Vols could count on. Thankfully, he delivered an all-time performance.

“I do think we’ve learned,” Barnes said. “I think a year ago we learned from our early loss to Villanova. I think we learned some things from the Kansas game and understanding the ebbs and flows of the game, but realizing how important every possession is. But also realizing you don’t have to play perfect. You just have to stay together. We did that.”

Tennessee doesn’t have to go play these games. They’re going to get enough big games playing in the SEC. But going through these huge tests in November and December should pay off in the long run. I think you saw it begin to pay off yesterday. How many teams can say that they’ve already taken on two top five teams?

The Vols are old and battle-tested. That’s usually a pretty successful combination in March.