With 2:32 seconds to go, the Big Orange margin was a mere two points (65-63).
Tennessee outscored the Bruins 12-5 down the stretch, however, to eke out a 77-68 triumph. The Vols played without Scooter McFadgon (serving a one-game suspension) and Major Wingate (who was held out after showing up late for a pre-game meeting).
Andre Patterson opened Tennessee's finishing kick with a basket that widened the gap to 67-63. Brandon Crump, who led the Vols with 22 points, scored inside to pad the lead to 69-63. Patterson then scored the last of his 16 points on a free throw that widened the gap to 70-63 with 1:11 remaining.
Justin Haire, who paced Belmont with 20 points, scored a 3-point play, narrowing the gap to 70-66 with 40.8 seconds left. The Bruins fouled on the inbounds play but C.J. Watson hit two free throws. Belmont missed a shot and fouled again. This time Chris Lofton hit two more free throws, opening the lead to 74-66 with 25 seconds to go.
Hair hit from outside, closing the gap to 74-68 but Watson hit a free throw and Lofton added two in the final seconds to secure the final margin.
The Vols move to 5-4, while Belmont slips to 2-6.
Belmont led only once, at 3-2. Up 6-5, Tennessee went on a 14-0 run that produced the 20-5 lead. The Bruins closed to nine (24-15) but an 8-0 run by Tennessee produced a 17-point lead, biggest of the game (32-15).
Belmont outscored the Vols 12-3 in the final 4:00 of the half and went to the break down just 35-27.
A 3-pointer by Hair allowed the Bruins to close to 35-32 three minutes into the second half, and the game was a nip-and-tuck affair thereafter.
Tennessee outshot Belmont 62-38 percent from the floor and won the backboards 39-22. The Vols committed 21 turnovers, however, enabling the Bruins to keep the game close.
Tennessee hosts Campbell Thursday night at 7:30. After breaking for the Christmas holiday, the Vols return to action Dec. 30 against Nebraska in their final pre-conference outing.