ATLANTA - Steven Hill with the last shot for a game-winner?
Of all the scenarios that the University might have drawn up on Saturday night, that would probably have been near the last one.
But the 7-0 Arkansas center hit the biggest shot of his career and his only attempt of the game – a 5-footer with 5.3 seconds left - as the Razorbacks knocked off No. 4 Tennessee 92-91 in a thoroughly entertaining SEC Tournament semifinal at Alexander Memorial Coliseum on the campus of Georgia Tech.
"Steve had the courage to step up and make a shot," noted Arkansas head coach John Pelphrey, whose team now plays Georgia at 2:30 CST for the tournament title. "I'm proud of him for that. Everybody can be happy for a guy when it goes in, but he had the courage to take the shot."
JaJuan Smith's lay-up with 20.1 seconds left had given SEC regular season champ Tennessee (29-4) a 91-90 lead.
That gave Arkansas (22-10), who had come from down 9 points in the second half, the last shot and the ball improbably ended up in Hill's hands and he calmly turned around, got his shot over Wayne Chism and netted one.
"I heard Coach Pelphrey saying 'we've got to go, we've got to go' and I knew time was running out," Hill said. "Gary kind of stumbled a little bit, but fortunately kept it and got it to me. I caught it, had a guy on my back, I had confidence in myself and I put it up there and thankfully it went in."
Chris Lofton than missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer as the Razorbacks pulled of an upset after losing by 23 at Tennessee earlier this season.
"It just goes to show you it's a game and it is not played on paper, it's played on the court," Pelphrey said. "It's bizarre that - if I told you it was going to come down to the last two offensive possessions and Arkansas' Steven Hill was going to take the shot and Chris Lofton was going to take the shot, I don't know if you thought the results would be like this."
If Arkansas had not been out of timeouts, Hill would not even have been in the game as he is subbed for on the offensive end late in games.
Tennessee head coach Bruce Pearl was complimentary of Hill and at the same time confounded by what went down.
"It's wonderful thing for him to get that ball and hit that shot and them advance," Pearl said. "He's a great defensive player and as a senior I think its great. But they beat us the same way they beat us all game long.
"We made a great defensive play," Pearl added. "We had them all tied up. I mean they threw it up there really out of desperation."
Hill's Razorback teammates, who mobbed him on the floor and again after he got back to the locker room after doing interviews, had varying degrees of thoughts as the shot went up.
"I got him the ball and then I cut to the goal in case there was going to be a rebound," Arkansas point guard Gary Ervin said. "I watched the shot go up and I tell you it seem like it took forever after he let it go till he got all up in that net. It was a wonderful moment for him and us."
Arkansas senior Vincent Hunter was a little worried from where he was standing.
"To be honest with you, I didn't think it was going to be long enough when it first went up," Hunter said. "But it just kept going and going and it was the prettiest thing I have ever seen when it came down."
Arkansas won in large part because Charles Thomas had a career-high 24 points and 10 rebounds off the bench,
Patrick Beverley added 17, Darian Townes 16, Stefan Welsh 12, Gary Ervin 9 and Sonny Weems got six of his seven points late in the contest.
"Steven makes that shot in practice all the time," Weems said. "I knew he was going to knock it down. It was beautiful."
Lofton had 25 points, Tyler Smith 24 and JaJuan Smith 18 for the Volunteeers, who may have cost themselves a number 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament with the loss.
Arkansas advances to its second straight SEC tournament title game and will play the winner of Saturday night'sGeorgia game on Sunday at 2:30 p.m. CST.
Dennis Felton's club has gone from being the sixth seed in the East to the title game while Arkansas, who lost to national champ Florida in last season's tournament title tilt, will be trying to win its first title since 2000.
"My days with Coach Felton go back to the Sun Belt," Pelphrey said. "What heart and courage and resiliency his team has shown."
Both teams shot 54 percent from the field, both were 20-of-29 from the free throw line, Tennessee had 11 3-pointers to Arkansas' 8, but the Razorbacks dominated the boards 32-21.
"We need to back up great performance with a great performance," Pelphrey said. "To me that's where character, where your team's heart, that's where understanding who you are and how fortunate you are to have a chance to lace it."
Photos by Marc Henning
Steven Hill's game-winning shot over Wayne Chism.
Darian Townes plays defense on Chris Lofton.
Gary Ervin drives inside to score over Ramar Smith.
Vincent Hunter gets to the basket.
Sonny Weems and Ramar Smith battle for a loose ball.
Arkansas players celebrate after upsetting No. 4 Tennessee.
Charles Thomas gets congrats from his teammates after the win.
Gary Ervin and Patrick Beverley celebrate just seconds after the final buzzer.
Arkansas 92, No. 4 Tennessee 91
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