In all-or-nothing typical J.P. Prince fashion, the long-armed senior blocked the desperation 3-point shot attempt of Evan Turner as the clock expired and the final horn sounded.
No whistle. Game over. History!
Celebration ensued on the court as Tennessee (28-8) ended a five game drought in regional semi-final play by defeating Ohio State (29-8) by a score of 76-73.
With the win, the Vols advance to the program’s first ever Elite 8.
Bruce Pearl’s strategy early in the contest was to rotate defenders on Evan Turner, Ohio State’s best player. But he saved his best for last.
“We put him (J.P.) on him the last few possessions,” Pearl said.
“J.P. can make a play in that situation. He made three huge plays down the stretch.”
But to get to that point, Prince needed help and Tennessee needed a leader.
With 15:56 remaining in the game, Wayne Chism missed a layup and walked to the bench for an official timeout with Tennessee trailing by six points, 49-43. It appeared the game, and the season, was slipping away.
Then it happened — something changed.
When the whistle blew to resume play, Chism walked calmly back onto the court. Noticeably absent was his trademark headband. Noticeably present was the look of determination in his eye. It was the look of a senior who refused to go down without a fight.
After a missed three point attempt by the Buckeyes, Chism sprinted down the floor, sealed his man, and took a pass from Brian Williams right to the basket. The shot rimmed out, but Chism tipped in the rebound.
“He’s angry right now,” noted the announcer.
His effort and intensity down the stretch were crucial to Tennessee’s success. Chism would score the Vols’ next two baskets on his way to 18 second half points.
The Jackson, Tennessee native finished with 22 points and 11 rebounds.
After the game Bruce Pearl acknowledged the contributions of his seniors.
“Our defense, our depth, and our seniors really made a huge difference; guys that wanted to take this Tennessee basketball program to a place its never been,” said Pearl.
“I thought the second thing was physically, our advantage was on the inside. We got the ball inside to Wayne and J.P. and Brian. They converted beautifully. We dominated the boards in the second half.”
Pearl sounded especially pleased that Prince was able to showcase his talent on a national stage.
“With Bobby making those last couple free throws and J.P. making two or three crucial stops on Turner late in the game, putting him in position to demonstrate that he truly is one of the best players in the country that nobody really knows about.”
Prince said he wasn’t surprised by the outcome.
“We’ve worked hard and it was an overall team effort,” said Prince. “We knew our team could compete with anybody when playing as a team. We’ve just done a great job at that.”
“We are excited but we know its not over,” Prince added. “We still have another game to play so we will enjoy tonight but tomorrow we will be right back and it will be all business from that point on.”
Pearl didn’t miss the opportunity to thank the Tennessee fans for a strong showing in St. Louis.
“Our crowd was great,” Pearl said. “I mean, We’ve got so many people here in orange in St. Louis it could just bring me to tears.”
“We’re one win from the Final Four,” declared Pearl.