Heart to heartbreak

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The trail of bodies heading for the exits with Tennessee trailing Pittsburgh 58-50 and just 1:46 remaining Saturday afternoon at Thompson-Boling Arena suggested that a few thousand Vol fans had given up. What happened next suggested that Vol players had not.

Exhibiting surprising poise, Tennessee scored six consecutive points and got the ball with a chance to tie entering the final 10 seconds. Unfortunately for the Vols, Trae Golden's drive to the tying bucket was interrupted by Ashton Gibbs, who tied him up with 3.6 seconds left. The alternate possession gave Pitt the ball, and the Panthers scored a three-point play on a breakaway against a gambling Vol defense to seal a 61-56 verdict.

From heart to heartbreak in 10 seconds ...

The ending was reminiscent of Tennessee's 99-97 two-overtime loss to Memphis at the Maui Invitational. Once again the Vols rallied valiantly and needed one clutch play late to win ... but couldn't find it.

"I'm very proud of the team for not quitting because one day you're going to pull out one of those games like that," senior wing Cameron Tatum said. "That was very encouraging when we got the guys together in a huddle and they said, 'We ain't going to quit. We're going to fight till the clock says zero-zero.' I loved to hear that from the young guys."

Junior center Kenny Hall also was encouraged by the Vols' late rally.

"That shows we're not a giving-up team," he said. "We're going to keep fighting until the horn sounds ... until it says 0:00 on the clock. That's pretty much all that is. That was just our drive."

Head coach Cuonzo Martin, though displeased with the outcome, seemed pleased with the heart his team showed in clawing back into the game as some fans were heading for the exits.

"I thought they did a great job in that last stretch run of not giving up and finishing the basketball game," Martin said. "It's easy to put your head down late in the game, thinking it's over, but they did a good job of battling, fighting and competing."

Golden said Tennessee's tenacity comes straight from the top.

"We're a reflection of our coach," he said. "Our coach told us not to give up. We're not no quitters. We wanted to keep going and we really thought we could've won the game."

Tennessee slips to 3-4 but three of its losses were competitive setbacks at the hands of No. 6 Duke, No. 8 Memphis and No. 17 Pitt. A few plays here or there could've turned each game, so those tough losses should prove to be a learning experience.

"Unfortunately, we came up short," Martin said, "but I think it's something you have to go through. I thought we had a great chance to win the game but it's part of it to keep learning and keep growing."

Hall believes the Vols are learning and growing with each game they play.

"If we stay focused and execute the right way, we could beat all of these good teams," he said. "If you take the name off the jerseys, they're just players ... like we are."

Though disappointed by another close loss, the Vols are confident that one quality win will get them over the hump and turn their season in a positive direction.

"That would mean a lot," Tatum said. "We're right there. Once we win one of those, then we'll start to grow as a team."

Martin saw enough positives in the loss to note: "I don't mind coming up short if we're getting better. I'm fine with that. It's a process."

Hall wasn't ready to go quite that far.

"I'm cool with that (Martin's philosophy) but I want to win," he said. "I care about the final result. I want to win. At the same time, there's a lot of truth to what he's saying. It's still early in the season. We've got a long season ahead of us.

"Looking at the bigger picture, I think we're going to be all right."


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