When Grant Williams went out because of foul trouble against the Kansas Jayhawks, the Vols looked lost.
Tonight, Admiral Schofield made sure that wasn’t going to happen again.
Tennessee’s leader, coming off a herculean effort, made play after play to help the Vols beat the top team in the country.
The game got off to a great start for the Vols. They were able to take advantage of some early Gonzaga turnovers and used great hustle and offensive rebounding to build an early 12-3 lead.
Grant Williams had seven of the Vols’ first 14 points and a big three-point shot from Yves Pons had them in early control as they led 17-8.
Tennessee made 8/16 shots compared to 5/12 for the Zags in the first nine minutes of the game. The Vols were flexing their muscle early and it showed.
But a great inside pass to Rui Hachimura helped the talented forward make an easy bucket later on to give Gonzaga a 22-21 lead. It was their first of the game.
Tennessee point guard Jordan Bone hit a big three-point shot to put Tennessee back in the lead 24-22, but the Zags kept coming.
Great interior defense from the Bulldogs gave the Vols enough problems and Corey Kispert hit a huge three-pointer to give the Zags a 33-27 lead. Gonzaga was on a 25-10 run at this point and the Vols looked to be in trouble.
That is until they decided to pull it together and go on a seven point run to finish the first half. Jordan Bowden hit a two-point shot as time expired and the Vols lead 34-33 going into halftime.
It didn’t take long for Gonzaga to regain the lead after Brandon Clark hit the first shot of the second half. Kyle Alexander responded nicely, but Clark came right back and hit another layup to push the lead back to 37-36 for the Zags.
Clark’s dominance continued on and was highlighted by an insane block on Pons to preserve Gonzaga’s 39-36 lead. He absolutely manhandled Pons and it will surely be a highlight on Sportscenter later tonight.
Three-point shots from both Jordan Bowden and Admiral Schofield cut the lead to one point, 49-48. Williams followed up Schofield’s three with a big block on Gonzaga’s next possession, but Clark was fouled and was able to get to the charity stripe.
Poor rebounding enabled the Bulldogs to extend their lead back to four and they led 52-48 with under 11:30 to play.
Despite the offensive success, Hachimura found himself in foul trouble after he committed his third personal of the game with 9:20 left in the game. But it didn’t phase his teammates at all. Guard Zach Norvell Jr. hit a deep three-pointer a few plays later to give the Bulldogs their largest lead of the game, 58-50.
Tension began to rise as Schofield could be seen jarring back and forth with Norvell Jr. Schofield looked to have the best of the situation after hitting a trey to bring the Vols back within three at 58-55, but Norvell Jr. immediately responded with another three to push the lead back to six, 61-55.
Gonzaga was able to build their lead up to eight points, at 64-58, but the Vols wouldn’t quit. Bowden hit a wide-open three and the Bone was able to drive in a layup off a fast break to cut the lead to 64-60. Hachimura was able to answer with a field goal of his own, but another three-pointer from Bowden but the lead three, 66-63.
Hachimura then picked up his fourth foul. Could the Vols make something happen with Gonzaga’s best player absent from the court?
The answer was a very stern “yes”. Schofield hit another three-pointer to tie the game at 68. It was a season-high 22nd point and the senior was looking for more.
With just three minutes left to play, this game was shaping up to be a nail-biter. Especially after Grant Williams picked up his fourth foul of the game.
The foul gave the Bulldogs a 70-68 lead and Williams fouled out on the next Gonzaga possession.
Hachimura made one of his free throws to extend the lead to 71-68, but Schofield nailed a jumper to bring the game within one point. With just two minutes to play, the game was shaping up for a dramatic finish.
And who knows drama better than Schofield?
Just moments after hitting his previous shot, Schofield drained a three-point shot to give the Vols their first lead since the beginning of the second half, 73-71.
With 1:09 remaining, all Tennessee needed was a couple of key defensive stops. Could they pull it off?
It looked that way before Tennessee was called for a travel call off a defensive rebound. Bone was able to get the rebound but fell on Schofield, resulting in the travel.
Hachimura was then fouled by Schofield on the ensuing layup. He made both of his free throws and the game was tied 73-73 with under :50 left to play.
But that was no issue for Schofield. He hit another three-point shot from the top of the key to give the Vols a 76-73 lead with :17 left in the game.
Norvell Jr. attempted the trey to tie the game, but it came up short and Alexander was there to get the rebound. He was fouled and Tennessee had their shot to win the game on a 1-and-1 with 7.2 seconds left.
He couldn’t make the shot, but it didn’t matter. Hachimura’s three-point shot fell short and the Vols pulled off the 76-73 victory.
Tennessee is now 8-1 on the season. Rick Barnes was 0-6 against the top ranked teams in the country before this game.