ST. LOUIS, Mo. — After 37 games, the Tennessee basketball team’s season came down to 11.2 seconds and a pair of free throws in a 70-69 loss to Michigan State in the Elite Eight.
A Scotty Hopson-missed free throw and Spartan forward Raymar Morgan’s successful free throw conversion after a questionable foul call on J. P. Prince with 1.8 seconds remaining was the deciding factor.
Prince said he simply wishes the game hadn’t been decided by the officials.
“I don’t know if I got the benefit of the doubt today,” Prince said. “I just think at the end of the game you let the players win the game. That’s the only thing I always say, let us win the game.”
Prince attempted to make officials see his side of the call but to no avail.
“But it’s unfortunate that he called it,” he said. “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. For it to end like that with one second, that’s just one of the most painful things, because there was nothing the players can do about it.”
Still, the Vols have plenty to be proud of after accumulating the first ever trip to the Elite Eight and the second most victories in school history.
Head coach Bruce Pearl said it’s hard to look past the sting of the loss to reflect on what the team accomplished.
“It’s hard to reflect right now,” Pearl said. “It’s hard to reflect because I’ve (never) been here before as a head coach. This is my first loss in the Elite Eight.”
Pearl said the outcome wasn’t what the Volunteers hoped to leave the Edward Jones Dome with.
“I think we came to St. Louis expecting to win two games,” Pearl said. “And we played two really good teams, and we probably played well, I think, both nights.”
While the loss was disappointing for the team, Pearl said the support of Big Orange faithful was a testament to the Volunteer spirit.
“I’m proud when I looked into the stands and saw all that orange up there,” Pearl said. “This isn’t close to home either. These people got in the car and they drove and they got here. And they’re proud. And they stayed with us all season long through a lot of adversity, and I think they enjoyed this group tremendously.”
The Vols started off the game on fire, making their first six attempts from three, and took a 41-39 lead into the locker room at the half.
Chism led the way with 10 first-half points and finished with a team high 13. Three other Vols scored in double figures. Prince had 12, Brian Williams added 11 and Scotty Hopson finished with 10 points.
The Spartans Durrell Summers led all scorers with 21 points for the contest.
Michigan State’s Draymond Green made a basket as the first-half buzzer expired to cut the lead down to 41-39 and take momentum into the locker room.
Pearl said he didn’t feel like the play was the deciding factor in the game.
“I didn’t,” Pearl said when asked. “It was a great momentum builder for Michigan State.”
Despite the momentum, the Vols’ rebounding in the second half helped to create 50-45 lead with 15:45 remaining after Wayne Chism knocked down his third trey.
From there, Michigan State went on a 14-1 run over a seven-and-a-half-minute span in which the Vols failed to make a field goal.
Turnovers and defensive breakdowns marked the Tennessee second half.
“We just made a couple of mistakes,” Chism said. “We really wasn’t doing what we were supposed to do. But at the time we just couldn’t make shots. Sometimes it happens that you — some team goes on a nice run like they did. It was because they were capitalizing off our missed shots and some of our bad play.”
The Vols rallied to tie the game at 69 on a made Scotty Hopson free throw with 11.2 seconds left, but he would miss the second, setting in motion the sequence of events that ended the Vols season and the careers of Bobby Maze, Chism and Prince.
Pearl said he was proud of what they accomplished despite the loss.
“I’m proud of my seniors and proud of our basketball program, the way they represented,” Pearl said.
With the loss, the Vols 2009-10 season comes to a close, but not before they made program history by making the Elite Eight.