Only one team had ever blown a 25-point lead in the NCAA Tournament heading into Sunday’s slate of second round games.
Tennessee nearly became the second.
The No. 2 seed Vols led by as much as 25 in the first half, but No. 10 seed Iowa raced back, eventually tying the game late. Tennessee prevailed in overtime, 83-77, advancing to its first Sweet 16 appearance since 2014.
“Honestly, I was thinking ‘man, we just gave up a 25-point lead. This gotta be like a record or something,’” Lamonte Turner said. “I honestly was thinking that during the game. ‘I’m like, yeah, nah, we can’t lose this game.’”
After jumping out to a 44-19 advantage, which was the Vols’ largest lead of the game, Iowa began chipping away.
It started with a 9-2 run out of the gates in the second half. Then a 10-0 run later on. Eventually, the Hawkeyes had tied the game and the Vols’ hopes of advancing seemed to be slipping away.
With 14 seconds left in a tie game, Tennessee drew up a play. Jordan Bone missed a 3-pointer with four seconds to go, and the two teams headed to overtime.
That’s when senior guard Admiral Schofield—who sat for much of the second half with foul trouble—told the coaching staff to leave him on the bench.
“I’m kind of cold, I had been on the bench for a long period of time,” Schofield said. “Take me out and put Kyle (Alexander) in. It’s going to change the game for us…I’m a winner, and at the end of the day, if I don’t need to be on the floor to win, that’s fine.”
Head coach Rick Barnes has talked about the trust he has with his players throughout the season. With everything on the line, Barnes once again relied on his senior leader—even if that meant keeping him out of the game.
“He didn’t want to play,” Barnes said. “He kept saying ‘keep Kyle in the game.’ That was his decision. He told me to leave Kyle in the game.”
Schofield’s decision might not have been what made the difference, but the Vols went on a 7-0 run in overtime and outscored the Hawkeyes 12-6 in the extra period.
After Tennessee’s lead had dwindled for the majority of the second half, the Vols needed to shift their mindset in overtime.
“I think that maybe some of our mindsets during regulation was ‘try to preserve the lead,’” Alexander said. “That’s not something you can do. Because then you are playing not to lose. I think you have to play to win…we came out in overtime trying to play to win.”
Junior forward—and two-time SEC Player of the Year—Grant Williams scored six points in overtime. He had 19 points and seven rebounds in the game.
“He’s crafty, he’s smart and he’s unselfish. That’s why he’s the two-time SEC Player of the Year,” Alexander said. “I’m so thankful and blessed to have him on my team.”
Despite playing just 24 minutes, Schofield had 19 points in the game. Seventeen of those came in the first half. Turner added 15 points and Bone notched 14.
Tennessee will face Purdue on Thursday in Louisville with an Elite Eight berth on the line.
The Vols beat the Boilermakers, 78-75, in overtime at the Bad Boy Mowers Battle 4 Atlantis in November of 2017. Tennessee has only advanced to one Elite Eight in program-history.
“We have to enjoy it (the win) now, enjoy it on the trip back and probably enjoy it tomorrow,” Alexander said. “We gotta start getting to work on our next opponent and try to keep this thing going. I want to play with these guys as long as I can.”