Tennessee’s historic NCAA Tournament run ended on Sunday as the Vols fell to Michigan State by a score of 70-69 in the Midwest Regional Final in St. Louis.
After leading by as many as six points in the first half and five in the second, Tennessee fell behind 51-59 with 11:28 remaining in the game.
Refusing to go down without a fight, the Vols began to methodically cut into the Spartan lead, and with 6:11 left to play Brian Williams’ made basket put Tennessee back on top, 64-63.
But it was Derrell Summers’ 3-pointer with just under three minutes left that proved to be the difference. The shot put Michigan State up by 3 points, and Tennessee was never able to regain the lead.
With 12 seconds to go, Scotty Hopson managed one of two free throws and the score remained tied. Hopson’s miss of the second attempt allowed the Spartans to advance the ball quickly down the floor to Raymar Morgan, who was able to draw a foul on J.P. Prince under the basket. Morgan hit the first free throw and intentionally missed the second.
After a Tennessee timeout with 1.6 seconds showing on the clock, Tennessee had one last prayer, but Prince’s half court attempt fell short as the buzzer sounded.
Wayne Chism, who finished his career with 136 points in NCAA Tournament games, led Tennessee in scoring with 13 points while J.P. Prince added 12 and Brian Williams chipped in 11.
The loss put the Vols’ final season record at 28-9, the second-best mark in school history.
Tennessee’s three seniors had differing thoughts after the game.
For J.P. Prince, it was painful for the game to be decided on a last-second foul.
“I just think at the end of the game you let the players win the game,” Prince said. “That’s the only thing I always say, just let us win the game. It’s unfortunate he called it. I just wanted to make sure he saw the call clear because with one second on the clock I don’t know. Like I said, it was a physical game and for it to end like that, with one second, that’s just one of the most painful things.”
“He called it,” Prince continued. “I can’t argue with it. It’s over, (and I) have to live with it for the time being.”
“I will have to watch the replay and see what happened but it’s a tough way to go out.”
Wayne Chism, on the other hand, was proud of what the team accomplished this season.
“I’m just proud of my team for what we overcame this season and the way we came together and put on a nice run like with did,” Chism said. “This team would never been nowhere without us three seniors leading this team and coach keeping us motivated and together the whole time.”
“How I feel right now, I’m just proud of my team. Michigan State played a good game and they came out with a good one at the end.”
Even though it was a record setting season for the Vols, Bobby Maze doesn’t believe he will ever get over the loss.
“Not right now,” Maze said. “I mean, that was our expectations coming into the season and right now it’s going to stick with us. And forever we will always — anytime we watch college games or during tournament time — we will always come back to that very moment when we was just too short. Especially when you only lose by one point.”
The opporutnity to advance to a Final Four doesn’t happen often, it had never happened for Tennessee before Sunday. A clearly dejected Bruce Pearl agreed with Maze’s assessment that the loss won’t be an easy one to forget.
“There was a lot of orange in the building and I think that our basketball program took a major step thanks to these guys up here, but this one here won’t go away for… forever.”
“This is painful,” Pearl added. “This is disappointing. Michigan State, we congratulate them, but this is not what we came here to do.”