Trailing 36-23 with less than four minutes left in the half, the Vols didn't worry. Moreover, they didn't panic.
"I thought the kids were patient," head coach Bruce Pearl noted on his post-game radio show. "They did a good job of not trying to get it back right away. That's something you worry about it. The way it (deficit) gets from 13 to 17 to 20 is you try to get it back right away. We ran some good sets and showed some patience."
Yeah, but mostly the Vols got the ball to Chris Lofton, who drained three 3-pointers to spark a 13-4 run that narrowed the gap to 40-36 by halftime. Pearl wasn't surprised.
"We're down 13, and your best player steps up and keeps you in range," the coach said.
Tennessee's poise in the face of such a sizeable deficit at Gainesville was nothing new. Stirring comebacks are becoming old hat for the Vols, who are building a reputation as Rally Kings. Consider:
- They came from nine down to beat Murray State 64-53 Nov. 30 in Nashville.
- They came from 12 down to beat Appalachian State 89-81 Dec. 5 in Knoxville.
- They came from 15 down early in the second half to beat South Carolina 76-69 Jan. 8 in Columbia.
- They came from 12 down to beat Georgia 83-78 Feb. 11 in Athens.
- They came from 13 down to beat Florida 76-72 Feb. 22 in Gainesville.
It's interesting to note that four of Tennessee's five biggest rallies this season came on foreign courts. That says a lot about the confidence of this group of players. Even when the home team is making a big run, the Vols figure their superior conditioning will enable them to weather the storm and eventually rally.
"The home team is going to make runs throughout the game," Dane Bradshaw said. "Coach (Pearl) obviously doesn't like to use his timeouts (to interrupt an opponent's run). He wants us to play through it because of the fatigue factor."
That stategy has worked all season long. So, when the deficit mounts, the message is clear: Don't worry, be happy … or, at least, be patient.