With two feet of snow blanketing his hometown of Dix Hills, N.Y., the talented freshman was unable to return from Christmas break - missing practice on Monday and Tuesday. He opened Wednesday's game with UT Martin on the bench but finished it on a roll, scoring eight consecutive Vol points in the final 3:00 as the Big Orange eked out a 68-62 victory.
Harris' late flurry enabled him to post a double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds - 11 of the points coming after intermission. Without those points, Tennessee might have suffered an embarrassing setback.
Coming off a 100-40 Monday night loss at Ohio State, Martin carried a 4-9 record into Wednesday's game. Thanks to a 3-2 zone and some lethargic play by Tennessee, however, the Skyhawks found themselves tied 58-all with three minutes remaining.
That's when Tobias Harris took over the game. The 6-8, 226-pound rookie hit a seven-footer in the lane with 2:52 left. He reeled in a Melvin Goins air ball and scored on a putback with two seconds left on the shot clock and 1:08 on the game clock to produce a 62-58 lead.
Two free throws by Martin's Terence Smith narrowed the gap to 62-60 but Harris nailed a pair of clutch foul shots with 24.8 seconds left, then added two more at the 13.3 mark. Those eight consecutive points produced a 66-60 lead and sealed the deal.
For a guy who arrived in Knoxville at around midnight Tuesday, Harris' performance on Wednesday was pretty amazing.
Conceding that it was "pretty tough" to get a rhythm in the first half, Harris noted on the post-game show that "The second half I told myself I had to step it up or we weren't going to win that game."
Tennessee, now 9-3, shot 49 percent (24 of 49) from the field, 31.3 percent (5 of 16) from 3 and 75 percent (15 of 20) from the foul line but was outrebounded 35-30 by the significantly smaller visitors. Reuben Clayton kept Martin in the game by hitting 7 of 16 shots (5 of 12 from 3) en route to a game-high 21 points.
Scotty Hopson scored 17 points to lead Tennessee, with 12 coming in the first half.
The game marked the return to action of senior guard Josh Bone, who missed Tennessee's first 11 games due to a broken wrist. He assumed the backup minutes previously played by sophomore guard Skylar McBee, who has been slowed by the flu.
Although Harris' failure to attend Monday's and Tuesday's practices was not his fault, he opened Wednesday's game on the bench, with Steven Pearl starting at power forward in his place.
Despite having lost three of its previous four games, Tennessee appeared somewhat flat at the start of the game. The Vols trailed 21-15 midway through the first half and 36-32 at the break. The six-point final margin matched Tennessee's biggest lead of the evening.
Tennessee picked up its defensive intensity in the second half. After allowing the Skyhawks to shoot 51 percent (15 of 29) in the first half, the Vols limited the visitors to 26 percent (7 of 27) in the second half. That enabled the Big Orange to outscore Martin 36-26 after intermission and avert what would've been a humiliating loss.
"I’ll take responsibility for the rotations being what they are," Vol coach Bruce Pearl said. "I think the biggest factor for me is we are consistently inconsistent.
"If you’re asking the head coach who he wants to have out there, the head coach doesn’t know who he wants out there. That’s a scary thing to be in January and not really know."