With 19 seconds remaining, Melvin Goins nailed his fourth 3-pointer of the night, right in front of Bruce Pearl, as Tennessee (26-8) edged San Diego State (25-9) by a score of 62-59 on Thursday night in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament.
Goins finished with 15 points off the bench, going 4-5 from 3-point range.
J.P. Prince also scored 15 points, while grabbing six rebounds and dishing out three assists.
With Tennessee ahead by only one point and just 7.4 seconds left, Wayne Chism stepped to the line and knocked down two clutch free throws, putting the Vols on top 62-59.
The game ended as Kawhi Leonard of San Diego State missed a long 3-point shot at the buzzer over the outstretched arm of Wayne Chism.
The Aztecs finished just 3 for 18 from beyond the arc.
After the game, Goins talked about his big shot.
“Even before they kicked the ball, coach was yelling, stick, stick, stick,” Goins said after the game. “So they kicked it and I just shot it and it went in.”
The junior-college transfer wasn’t sure he would ever have this type of opportunity.
“Just advancing, it feels great,” Goins said. “I can’t even speak with words (what) it means to me. I never thought I’d be in the NCAA Tournament, and just advancing is just a wonderful feeling.”
Goins said the shot was the biggest of his career.
“It’s the biggest because it’s on this stage. This is the biggest stage in basketball right now, so it’s the biggest so far.”
Bruce Pearl credited his assistant coaches for the decision to have Melvin on the floor at the end of the game.
“The decision to have him out there at the end of the game was not a traditional move,” Pearl said. “My assistant coaches and I talked about it because Melvin and Bobby are our point guards. But we wanted him out there because he was playing so well and obviously he stepped up.”
Sometimes, to win basketball games coaches have to make calls that aren’t necessarily by the book, and urging Goins to take that shot may have been one of those times.
“I don’t know if that was a smart play, or the right play, or what should come out from me,” Pearl said. “But we had struggled so much offensively and we weren’t getting good looks. Melvin had knocked three down before and I just wanted to give him the confidence to take that shot.”
“Now, that may not have been the right move, time, and score because there was a full clock. But you know what? We had shot 30 percent and we were struggling. So he let it fly and it was a big big basket.”
The win was Tennessee’s fourth first-round NCAA Tournament victory in five tries, and a nice birthday gift for Bruce Pearl who turned 50 on Thursday.
Tennessee will play again on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. against No. 14 seed Ohio, an upset winner over third-seeded Georgetown.