Official reviews cost Tennessee two football games in 2010 by giving opponents an extra snap after time seemingly had expired. The Basketball Vols got a little payback at Stegeman Coliseum, however. This time the replay monitor confirmed that a follow shot by Brian Williams was released before the game clock hit 0:00.0, giving the Big Orange a heart-stopping 59-57 defeat of Georgia.
Off-balance as he gathered in an air ball shot by Vol teammate Tobias Harris, the 6-10, 270-pound Williams was falling onto his backside as he flung the game's final shot toward the basket. When it went in, Tennessee's players rushed the court in celebration and officials rushed to the TV monitor to verify that the shot beat the buzzer.
The chaos that ensued was eerily reminiscent of the Tennessee-LSU and Tennessee-North Carolina football games, when the official reviews went against the Vols. This time, after perhaps a 45-second delay, the officials confirmed the shot and the Tennessee victory.
The unlikely bucket made an unlikely hero of Williams, who is known as an exceptionally good rebounder but an exceptionally poor finisher around the rim. He acknowledged as much on the post-game show, laughingly noting that "It was incredible for me to hit the game-winning shot. I'm probably the last person anybody expected to get that shot."
The comment was accurate. But so was the shot he launched toward the basket as he was tumbling backwards.
The win lifts Tennessee to 12-6 overall and 2-2 in SEC play. The loss drops Georgia to 13-4 and 2-2.
Associate head coach Tony Jones, filling in for suspended Vol head man Bruce Pearl, won for the second time in a row after losing his first two outings. Naturally, Jones was thrilled to see the Vols grind out a victory, despite shooting just 42.9 percent (24 of 56) from the field and 31.6 percent (6 of 19) from 3.
"The kids played with effort," Jones said. "We talked about our method of victory ... how were we going to win this basketball game when so many people didn't think we could?
"The key was to play 40 minutes of committed basketball defensively. We did that."
The Vols did, indeed. They limited Georgia to 42.5-percent shooting and blocked seven shots.
"The effort was consistent," Jones said. "The kids implemented the game plan and got the win in a place where not too many teams are going to come in here and win."
That's probably true. Tenth-ranked Kentucky visited Stegeman Coliseum on Jan. 8 and suffered a 77-70 upset loss. But the up-and-down Vols exhibited just enough focus and hustle to escape the ambush. A 34-28 advantage on the backboards helped, too.
"We had 14 big offensive rebounds and 16 second-chance points," Jones noted. "That's been a formula for us."
Making clutch plays in late-game situations has not been part of Tennessee's formula for success but the Vols showed some poise this time.
Down 53-54, they took a 55-54 lead when Josh Bone made a 10-footer from the lane as the shot clock expired with 2:24 remaining. Williams outmuscled a Georgia defender to reel in an errant pass from Melvin Goins and hit a layup that made it 57-54 with 1:32 to go. Georgia's Dustin Ware tied the score, however, by nailing a 3-pointer with 1:01 left.
Scotty Hopson missed a driving layup but Goins got the ensuing loose ball, then Tennessee called timeout with 27 seconds left to set up its final shot. Harris' attempt from the deep left corner missed everything but Williams gathered in the errant shot and put up the climactic eight-footer as time expired.
Hopson and Harris finished with 15 points each for the Vols. Williams added 10. Guards Travis Leslie and Gerald Robinson scored 14 apiece for Georgia. Star forward Trey Thompkins added 13.
Tennessee showed some resiliency for the second game in a row. The Vols rallied from a 17-point first-half deficit to beat Vanderbilt Saturday in Knoxville. This time they saw Hopson go to the bench with two fouls after scoring 11 of their first 16 points. When Georgia quickly built a 23-16 lead, Tennessee appeared ready to fold. It didn't, though, clawing back to lead 35-33 at the break and never trailing by more than three points in the second half.
Jones summed up the performance quite eloquently.
"It was a spirited effort," the coach said, "by a determined group."