The last time Tennessee found itself on an NCAA Tournament floor, it had just suffered a devastating loss at the hands of Loyola-Chicago, putting an end to its championship hopes in brutal fashion.
Needless to say, the Vols were in no mood to recant old memories as they kicked the postseason off on unfamiliar soil. The task of overcoming their first opponent would prove to be anything but easy, however.
Admiral Schofield scored a team-high 19 points, Jordan Bone tallied 16 points and five rebounds and Jordan Bowden produced 14 points off the bench as Tennessee held off a late rally by Colgate, beating the Raiders, 77-70.
The win marks the Vols’ 30th of the season and their second straight opening round win in the Big Dance. Despite some minor hiccups in the second half, Tennessee was able to muster up enough offense down the stretch to stave off a historic upset.
It was their defense, however, that their head coach was most proud of.
“I did think we were good defensively and I don't want to take anything away from Colgate because I thought those guys played their hearts out,” Rick Barnes said. “But to get through this tournament you're going to have games like this.”
In what appeared to be an early blowout, the Vols raced out of the gates early and claimed a double-digit lead. At one point, their lead stretched to as many as 16 points following a 16-2 run.
Heading into the intermission, it seemed Tennessee was well on its way to a lopsided victory over an inferior opponent. Once the second half began, it was clear that it would be the exact opposite.
Utilizing a 22-8 run to open the final period, the Raiders quickly narrowed the gap and eventually found themselves with a two-point lead at the midway point.
That’s when Tennessee’s veteran resolve kicked in. And they were not surprised whatsoever with Colgate’s seemingly endless barrage of 3-pointers.
“We just had to remind ourselves that Colgate is a good team and they were going to make a run,” Lamonte Turner said. “Coach calmed us down and we were able to protect the lead and it’s what we expected.”
Outscored by a margin of 32-14 since opening up its largest lead of the afternoon, Tennessee was staring another disappointing end to a season right in the face. Only this time, the chapter would finish with a different ending.
That all started with Schofield, who’s clutch 3-pointers late effectively sealed the win for a Tennessee team that appeared to be on the ropes for much of the second half.
The senior guard couldn’t buy a make from beyond the arc all game, but when it mattered most, No. 5 once again came through when the Vols needed him late. At that point, none of the 11 shots he attempted until then mattered.
“My mindset is that I’m always hot...that’s what I tell myself,” Schofield said. “I’m just confident (in myself) and shooters always keep shooting.”
Draining consecutive shots from long distance in the game’s final two minutes, Schofield trotted back and slowly pointed to a spot on his lower forearm.
He had done it again, only this time Tennessee’s entire season was on the line. Scared is hardly a word that one could use to describe Schofield down the stretch, a reality he has even come to accept.
At this time of the year, no team can afford to play with fear, and the Vols’ emotional anchor certainly doesn’t fit that mold.
“This is it, this is no time to be scared or worry about numbers or percentages,” Schofield said. “It’s about just going out and competing.”
Tennessee will take on Iowa on Sunday in the round of 32. Tipoff and broadcast times are to be determined.