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Sailing out of bounds to save a loose ball, Cameron Tatum acrobatically launched a 40-foot pass to teammate Jordan McRae, who raced upcourt for a layup that gave Tennessee a 64-56 lead with 7:11 left in Monday night's second-round NIT game against Middle Tennessee.

No one could have imagined that would be the Vols' last points of the 2011-12 season. But it was.

The Blue Raiders, regular-season champs of the Sun Belt Conference, outscored Tennessee 15-0 over the final seven minutes to turn the eight-point deficit into a 71-64 victory before a stunned crowd of 12,038.

"We just couldn't get a bucket, basically," Vol junior Jeronne Maymon said of the finishing fade. "We ran our offense; we just couldn't put the ball in the hole."

Tennessee missed its last nine field-goal attempts and its lone foul shot during those climactic final seven minutes. Middle Tennessee made just 3 of 11 field-goal tries during the same stretch but repeatedly beat the Vols on dribble drives, got fouled and converted nine of 10 foul shots.

The win improves Middle Tennessee's record to 27-6 and earns it a berth in third-round NIT play on Wednesday. The loss ends Tennessee's season at 19-15, matching last year's mark.

The Vol killer on this night was Blue Raider point guard Bruce Massey, who offset 7 turnovers by producing 20 points, 10 rebounds, 4 assists, a block and 3 steals. He blew by Vol defenders all night long.

"He did a really good job of just driving it to the rim," Vol coach Cuonzo Martin said. "He's a defensive stopper type of guy — he had two on-the-ball steals — but I guess they felt he had an opportunity to go and make plays offensively. And he did that."

Massey was averaging just 5.5 points per game coming in but he seemed too quick for Tennessee point guard Trae Golden. This was especially true in the final seven minutes, when Massey blocked a Golden shot and scored eight points during Middle's 15-0 finishing kick.

Tennessee's head man had seen this script before.

"If you look down the stretch of games, look at how (opposing) teams won the games, they won off the ball screen with their point guard attacking the rim," Martin said. "You look at most games (lost), and that was the bottom line."

Asked what Tennessee could have done to stop Massey late, Martin replied: "For the most part, you have to step up and guard your man, especially when a guy who's a non-threat offensively is making plays off the bounce to win the game for his team. That's just taking individual pride. Every man has to do their job to step up and get stops at the end of the game."

For all of Golden's struggles on defense, he was outstanding on offense — producing 14 points, 8 assists and zero turnovers.

Ultimately, the Vols' plan to wear down MTSU with a patient inside/out attack proved successful ... halfway. The inside part was potent as the 6-foot-7, 265-pound Maymon (17 points) and 6-foot-8, 270-pound Jarnell Stokes (15) seemingly scored at will during the game's first 27 minutes.

Neither managed a point over the final 13 minutes, however, as Middle blanketed them and dared Tennessee to score from long range. The Vols took the dare but couldn't make the shots, finishing an abysmal 1 of 13 from 3-point range.

"We didn't have a consistent flow offensively," Martin said. "I thought we shot a couple of balls quick, as opposed to really pounding the ball inside and taking advantage of that (superior heft)."

Maymon, who missed Tennessee's NIT opener versus Savannah State with a knee bruise, said the knee "felt good" Monday night but that he was "a step slow." That may have contributed to MTSU's 46-30 advantage on the backboards.

Despite posting 32 combined points in the game's opening 27 minutes, he and Stokes scarcely touched the ball down the stretch.

"I think a couple times we got the ball inside to them, but they (Blue Raiders) did a good job double-teaming them and making them kick it out to some of our shooters," senior wing Cameron Tatum said. "We got a good look at it and didn't knock it down or got to the bucket and couldn't make a layup. It was plays that normally we make that we just didn't capitalize on and finish."

Tennessee's wings shot miserably, combining to make just 5 of 27 shots. Junior Skylar McBee, who entered the game hitting a team-best 40.4 percent from beyond the arc, went 0 for 5 from 3 and 0 for 7 overall. Tatum was 1 for 5 from 3 and 3 for 11 overall. McRae was 0 for 1 from 3 and 1 for 6 overall, while Josh Richardson was 1 for 3 overall.

"From the guard spot — especially from my standpoint — I've got to knock some shots down from the perimeter to take the weight off Jeronne and Jarnell," McBee said. "I didn't do that tonight, so that's on me."

Told the Vols were 1 of 13 from 3 and 19 of 30 from the foul line, McBee shook his head and replied, "That's the story, definitely. We didn't shoot it well from outside and didn't shoot it well from the free-throw line. If we take care of those things, we probably end up winning that game."

To get a look at the action from the hardwood Monday night, check out this photo gallery below from InsideTennessee's Danny Parker:


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