Down 52-42 with 8:15 left, Tennessee's outlook was bleak. First-team point guard Bobby Maze was exhausted and second-teamer Melvin Goins was suspended. The only option available to head coach Bruce Pearl was third-teamer Josh Bone, a junior walk-on from Nashville.
What appeared to be an act of desperation proved to be an act of inspiration. Bone hit a 3-pointer to cap a 13-2 spurt that put Tennessee on top 55-54. He hounded Ole Miss point guard Chris Warren, causing him to miss a potential game-winning 3-pointer in the final seconds of regulation and commit a crucial turnover in overtime. Bone then drained a 3-pointer to provide a 64-61 lead en route to a 71-69 victory.
Although he finished with 9 points, 3 rebounds and 3 steals in 26 quality minutes, his greatest contribution was something he DIDN'T do. Counting overtime, he didn't allow Warren to score a point over the game's final 13 minutes. That's significant, since Warren had produced a team-high 19 points in the preceding 32 minutes.
"Josh was playing great defense," Pearl said. "That's the only reason he was out there.... Josh built a wall and you couldn't get around him. Warren couldn't turn the corner on him."
Bone appreciated the praise but conceded that the 5-10, 165-pound Warren was a difficult cover.
"He was very quick but I knew I had a size advantage on him, and Coach had a good game plan against him," said Bone, a 6-3, 195-pounder. "I just tried to listen to Coach and what he told me to do, use my strength to hold him from driving a little bit. But he's a great guard."
Bone may not be a great guard but he did a great job on Saturday. That's why Maze, the reining SEC Player of the Week for his recent play against Kansas and Auburn, did not leave the bench during the game's final 13 minutes and 15 seconds.
"It was not a punishment on Bobby," Pearl said. "Bobby played so hard against Auburn and he just didn't have any legs. You could see it from the beginning. He couldn't keep Warren in front of him."
Thanks to fresher legs, Bone succeeded where Maze failed, sticking to Warren like Super-glue. Even as fans checked the scorer's table in the final minutes, expecting Maze to return to the lineup, Bone kept his focus exclusively on the guy he was guarding.
"I didn't know Bobby wasn't going to come back in," Bone said. "I was just trying to do what I could the time I was on the floor. Bobby's had a great season, and I just tried to make up for his time."
Pearl saw Bone play once as a high school senior at Brentwood Academy. The Vol coach was scouting Brentwood's Brandan Wright, along with Bolivar Central's Wayne Chism and Willie Kemp.
"Willie Kemp couldn't score on Josh Bone but Josh Bone scored on Willie Kemp," Pearl recalled. "I thought, 'Who is this guy? Maybe I made a mistake.'"
If so, the mistake has been corrected. After two years at Southern Illinois, Bone decided to transfer prior to the 2008-09 season. Pearl convinced him to give UT a try.
"We're glad he's here now," the coach said.
Bone is glad, too.
"I was just told to always stay ready, keep working hard," he said. "When you do that everything pays off. I knew my opportunity would come, and I'm just trying to take advantage."
His opportunity came because Goins was among four Vols suspended 16 days ago after being arrested on marijuana and weapon charges.
"It was a bad situation with Melvin," Bone conceded, "but I knew we had to stay strong as a team. I knew I had to make up for his absence and try to do the best I can."