If Tennessee was looking to put any doubt regarding its contention status to rest, it certainly didn’t do so in Columbus on Sunday, despite the final score suggesting otherwise.
Overcoming its second round demons of a year ago, the Vols avoided another second half meltdown, downing Iowa 83-77 in overtime following a hellacious Hawkeyes' surge coming out of the locker room.
Advancing to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2014, UT now find itself two wins away from its first Final Four appearance in program history.
Some takeaways from Sunday’s game:
Poor second half start manifests once again
While Tennessee is known for its hot starts early, it is just as notorious for its porous efforts coming out of the intermission. Sunday was no different.
Not only did the Vols begin to turn the ball over at a frantic pace, but they were forcing contested shots and their communication on defense was anything but sound.
Admiral Schofield and Grant Williams picking up their third fouls within minutes of each other certainly didn’t help. When it appeared they had stemmed the tide midway through, Iowa found itself on the comeback trail once again.
“We let them come down, get us in foul trouble and let the momentum of the game mess with our offense a bit,” Lamonte Turner said. “Once we settled down and realized we had our game in our hands, we were fine."
Using an 8-0 run to cut the deficit to five with just under eight minutes remaining, the Hawkeyes continued to capitalize on countless Tennessee turnovers.
Trimming the lead to one with just under four minutes to play, Iowa had swagger, confidence and all of the momentum.
Veteran poise buoys Vols in overtime
Despite lacking it down the stretch of regulation, Tennessee’s veteran poise it had played with nearly all season showed up in the knick of time.
On the outside, the Vols appeared to be reeling following Iowa’s massive comeback. On the inside, they were as cool as the other side of the pillow.
“For us to be able to fight through that and get the win is big-time,” Kyle Alexander said. “It comes down to stops and execution and you can’t turn the ball over like we did early in the second half.”
Opening up the extra period on a 7-0 run, Tennessee quickly seized back the momentum it had gift-wrapped for Iowa in the second half. Even with Schofield on the bench, the Vols continued to fight and scrap.
One of the country’s most lethal groups on the offensive end, the Hawkeyes struggled to find their mark from distance. In the second half and overtime, they were just 3 of 11 from beyond the arc.
“That’s what our game plan was to keep them off of the 3-point line,” Jordan Bowden said. “Lamonte did a big-time job making Bohannon take tough shots and running him off of the line.”
Vols’ aggressive play early pays dividends
Known for its quick starts on the offensive end, Tennessee found itself in quite the comfort zone early on and the Hawkeyes were helpless to stop the onslaught.
Riding the wave of momentum they captured late against the Raiders, the Vols were anything but timid following the opening tip in the first half. Even when Iowa attempted to crawl within striking distance, it was no use.
For Tennessee’s head coach, that all began with the tenacity and intensity jolted into them by their former conference Sixth Man of the Year.
“Lamonte Turner I thought was key in setting the tone of the game early, I thought we were aggressive,” Rick Barnes said. “Came out played the way, the first half, like we do when we're playing our best basketball.”
Just minutes into the first half, Tennessee was shooting 66 percent from the floor and its emotional anchor was a big reason why. Picking up where he left off against Colgate, Admiral Schofield was once again in his bag of tricks.
The Zion, Ill. native toyed with the Hawkeyes to the tune of 17 points on 6 of 9 shooting in the first half. He wasn’t alone in his efforts, either.
Five other Vols recorded five points or more during the opening period and it did not go unnoticed.
“The team you saw in the first half is what won 31 games. We have to be consistent in that aspect,” Schofield said. “But at this time of year it's about winning, about surviving and advancing.”
Tennessee will head to Louisville for a Sweet 16 matchup with third-seeded Purdue on Thursday. The Vols defeated the Boilermakers, 78-75, in the Battle 4 Atlantis last season. Tipoff and television schedules are still to be determined.