Vols Last Stand Falls Short In NIT

Buzz Peterson super-sized his lineup but he couldn't exorcise the old gray ghosts of Georgetown past, as the Hoyas displayed dogged defense reminiscent of John Thompson's glory days and scored a 70-60 victory over Tennessee (17-12) in the first round of the NIT.

Operating out of a 2-3 zone, Georgetown (16-14) sprung traps on the ball, pressured the perimeter and shut down the post with an athletic cast as quick as it was physical. The result was 19 Tennessee turnovers and 11 Hoya steals.

The swarming pressure also enabled Georgetown to turn a 29-26 deficit into a 34-29 lead in the first 90 seconds of the second half. Tennessee made a couple of runs to get the margin to three points, but could never pull even as the Hoyas were effective controlling the ball, milking the clock and banging the offensive boards.

The Vols final charge came after Georgetown built its largest lead to that point at 46-37. Tennessee got it down to 54-51 at the 7:00 mark behind a pair of Ron Slay treys and a Brandon Crump slam. UT had the ball with a chance to tie, however Slay was forced to take an off balanced shot with the clock counting down and three minutes later Georgetown was back on top 62-51.

Senior strongman Mike Sweetney, who personifies the term power forward, led Georgetown with 17 points and a game-high 14 rebounds, while freshman guard Shanti Cook came off bench to give the Hoyas a boost with a career-high 16, highlighted by 11 consecutive points late in the first half and a 7-of-12 shooting performance. Gerald Riley added 15 points and Victor Samrick had 11 for the Hoyas.

Without senior guard and four-year starter Jon Higgins available and no one ready to step in at the wing, Peterson opted for a big lineup that featured 6-8 sophomore Elgrace Wilborn in his first starting role. Looking like Dennis Rodman circa 1989, Wilborn corralled a team-high 11 rebounds and tied a school record — jointly held by Reggie Johnson and Doug Roth — with six blocked shots. Wilborn, who scored four points, amassed his block and board total in just 25 minutes of action before his record-breaking pace was abruptly halted by his fifth personal foul.

Playing his final game at cavernous Thompson-Boling Arena before a sparse crowd reported at 3,011, Ron Slay scored 17 points and grabbed eight boards. He also showed signs of fatigue that surfaced late in a long season in which he accumulated major minutes battling multiple defenders and collapsing schemes. Slay had a sub par night from the field connecting on 5-of-13, including 3-of-9 on 3-pointers, and made a team-high six turnovers.

Another victim of overuse was freshman point guard C.J. Watson who scored 10 points against Georgetown, but was also guilty of five turnovers verses four assists.

"Maybe we played C.J. too many minutes this season," Peterson said. "Maybe we should have gotten some of the young guards in there and rested him more."

If any of those young guards were ready, it wasn't evident when Higgins went out and no one stepped up. Freshman wing Stanley Asumnu got the start against Auburn but only scored one point in 20 minutes and often looked confused when the Vols ran their half-court offense. He came off the bench to score four points against Georgetown, hitting 1-of-4 from the field in 19 minutes of play.

Freshman guard Jon Winchester scored one point in nine minutes vs. Auburn and was scoreless in the same PT stint against Georgetown. Considered one of the nation's better shooting guard prospects when he signed with Tennessee, Winchester hit just 11-of-51 for the season while Asumnu was 30-of-96 for a combined 41-of-147.

Little wonder Peterson decided to up size for Georgetown, abandoning the three-guard starting lineup for one that featured a front line of 6-8 Wilborn, 6-9 Slay and 6-10 Crump, spelled by 7-0 freshman Boomer Herndon, who played eight minutes getting two rebounds and two blocked shots.

"We went with a big lineup and came out aggressive," said Peterson. "Elgrace did a nice job for us blocking shots and getting rebounds and it was a chance to get Boomer in there, too."

The rotation of tall timbers helped Tennessee stay with the physical Hoyas on the boards (42-41), but it didn't relieve the pressure on the ball or open scoring opportunities from the perimeter. The Vols shot just 35.7 percent from the field (20-of-56) and 6-of-21 from three-point range.

Georgetown wasn't much better, connecting on 36.9 percent (24-of-65) and 3-of-11 on 3-point attempts. But the Hoyas' work on the offensive glass created second shot opportunities and the Vols high turnover volume led to some easy baskets.

"Their 2-3 (zone) slowed us down a lot," said Peterson. "They were pretty aggressive, trapped us some and got some turnovers. Having 19 turnovers was too many to beat a good team."

Thaydeus Holden had 12 points and four assists in his farewell appearance for the Vols and Crump added 11 points and eight rebounds.

The defeat ended the Vols season two days after they were rejected by the NCAA and four days after Auburn ejected them from the SEC Tournament. Tennessee surprised many experts with its solid season, but lost six of eight down the stretch and were two and out in the post season.

"It's tough to take," Peterson said of the post season setbacks. "Overall, I was really pleased with what we did this season. We're disappointed now, but it's like I told our players, you proved a lot of people wrong."

Though Tennessee's season came to a sudden end, the Vols will make a quick return to the basketball court next month to prepare for a tour of basketball duty in Australia scheduled for May.


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