"We ran out of gas a little bit and we didn't execute down the stretch," a disappointed UT coach Bruce Pearl said on his post-game radio show. "I'm not into moral victories. We're beyond that."
Williams, a 6-9, 225-pounder who picked Memphis over the Vols coming out of high school two years ago, finished with 21 points, 14 rebounds and 4 blocked shots as the fourth-ranked Tigers moved to 16-2. Teammate Rodney Carney led all scorers with 22 points, while Darius Washington added 17 and Chris Douglas-Roberts 11.
Dane Bradshaw recorded 21 points, 10 rebounds, 4 assists and 5 steals for the Vols, who slip to 11-3 following their second loss in a row. Chris Lofton bounced back from a career-low 2-point effort last Saturday at LSU with 16 points. C.J. Watson added 14, while Stanley Asumnu and Major Wingate chipped in 11 each.
Tennessee limited Memphis to 43 percent field goal shooting and lost the backboards by just five (49-44) but had trouble scoring in the final minutes. Watson, Tennessee's Mr. Clutch all season, made just 2 of 10 field-goal tries in this game.
"C.J. is such a pivotal part to how we close games out," Pearl noted, "but we just couldn't get him free and get him a clean look."
Tennessee scored the last seven points of the first half – capped by a Bradshaw 3-pointer with 2 seconds left – to turn a 38-41 deficit into a 45-41 halftime lead.
Memphis opened the second half with a 10-2 spurt that gave the Tigers a 51-47 lead. The Vols never led again, although they tied the score at 55-55, 63-63 and 69-69 with 6:45 left.
That's when Williams went to work. Two free throws gave Memphis the lead for good. A layup preceded a 3-pointer by Carney, then Williams muscled his way inside for a three-point play that boosted the lead to 79-69 with around 4:00 remaining. The Vols never got closer than six points thereafter.
"With about five minutes to go, the game just kinda got away from us," Pearl said, later noting that Williams "is better around the basket than I thought he was."
Tennessee hosts No. 2 Florida (17-0) Saturday night at Thompson-Boling Arena. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m., with television coverage provided by Fox Sports Net.