Tennessee remembered the pain it felt when walking off of the American Airlines Center court in Dallas a year ago.
Facing an 18-point second-half deficit on Thursday, the Vols managed to fight all the way back and force overtime.
In the end, it wasn’t enough.
Admiral Schofield and Grant Williams each logged a team-high 21 points and Lamonte Turner notched 15 points as Tennessee’s championship hopes came to an end in Louisville, falling to Purdue, 99-94, in overtime.
The loss marks a disappointing end to what was a tremendous season for the Vols, who entered this postseason with aspirations of taking home a national championship. Carsen Edwards and Ryan Cline led the Boilermakers with 29 and 27 points, respectively.
For head coach Rick Barnes, the thought of seeing his team claw back in the second half was inspiring, but ultimately their ineptitude in the first half proved to be detrimental to their success.
“We're proud of the effort the way we fought back in the second half. The first half, we didn't do much at all on the offensive end,” Barnes said. “We knew they were going to make shots. They're an offensive team.”
While Tennessee’s second half surge was inspiring, its ineptitude in the first half was anything but. After surrendering a 25-point lead in Columbus, it appeared to come out with that same energy that nearly sent it packing in the round of 32.
The Vols were missing free throws, taking contested shots and attempting to play at Purdue’s pace. In the end, it came back to bite them. Tennessee shot just 36 percent during the opening period, a far-cry from its regular season average of nearly 50 percent.
Despite that, Tennessee showed why it was labeled as one of the better teams in the country during the final 20 minutes.
“It was a high-level game, and really I can't say enough about our guys fighting back,” Barnes said. “And taking nothing away from Purdue, but we were there.”
Using a 21-5 run to claw their way back, the Vols found themselves with the lead on several instances during the final minutes. At one point, it seemed the momentum they seized was overwhelming.
Up by two with just over two seconds remaining in regulation, Tennessee had to record just one stop to advance to its first Elite Eight appearance since 2010.
Inbounding the ball to Edwards, the junior guard sprinted to the corner, planted his feet and attempted to go up for what would have been a go-ahead 3-pointer. He missed, but the officials called a foul on Turner, and Edwards would be sent to the line for three free throws.
He would only connect on two, but a key opportunity slipped through the Vols’ fingers. Fans continue to be divided on the call, but Turner made his stance clear following the game.
“Well, when you're guarding a shooter, you want to contest every shot,” Turner said. “He was
kicking his leg out all night. So if he kicks his leg out, I can't contest the shot.”
Tennessee would have a chance to right the ship in overtime, but Purdue had other plans. The Boilermakers outscored the Vols 17-12 during the extra period and ceased to look in their rearview mirror the rest of the way.
For the Vols, the final buzzer brought about a moment of reflection and heartbreak. They hadn’t accomplished their goal and they were well aware of that, but after a season in which they set program records and defied the odds, they have plenty to hang their hat on.
That was the gist of Barnes’ postgame speech. And while they won’t be hanging a Final Four banner in Thompson-Boling Arena this season, the precedent has been set for years to come.
“He just told us to be proud of our season, keep our heads up,” Turner said. “It obviously didn't end the way we wanted it to, but we love each other, and we're a family.”