Tennessee, which finishes 24-11, may need considerable time to recover from the heartbreaking loss. The underdog Vols played a near-perfect first half. They hit 56 percent of their field goals and 60 percent (9 of 15) of their 3-point tries. They sent Oden to the bench with three quick fouls and led by 20 points (49-29) with mere seconds left to intermission.
Ohio State's David Lighty scored on a driving three-point play a split-second ahead of the halftime horn, however, and the game seemed to turn on that play. The Buckeyes dominated the second half in posting the come-from-behind victory.
All-American Chris Lofton scored 24 for Tennessee, hitting 9 of 18 from the floor, including 6 of 13 from beyond the arc. Ramar Smith added 17 points, JaJuan Smith and reserve Ryan Childress 12 each. Childress' points came on four 3-pointers.
Statistically, Tennessee did enough to win. The Vols shot 48 percent from the floor. They made a season-high 16 baskets from 3-point range (in 31 attempts). They outrebounded the taller Buckeyes 34-33 and committed just 7 turnovers. Tennessee was outscored 23-8 at the foul line, however, and the discrepancy in free-throw attempts (35-17) had head coach Bruce Pearl scratching his head.
"It's interesting," Pearl said. "Conley shoots 14 free throws; Chris Lofton doesn't shoot any. I think 5 (Lofton's number) on Tennessee's team is a pretty good player. Maybe Chris doesn't drive it in to contact as much (as Conley). Certainly, he shoots a lot more 3 balls. But for him to not go to the foul line one time is difficult for me to understand."
The first five minutes after intermission proved critical. Down 49-32 at the break, the Buckeyes used a 10-0 spurt early in the second half to trim a 51-34 deficit to 51-44 and seize the momentum.
"The starters didn't come out and defend with the urgency we needed," Pearl said of the sluggish second-half start. "We weren't making plays. We were playing defensively, whereas the first half we had some purpose defensively. I thought that was really key."
Ohio State continued to chip away at the lead and finally pulled even at 64 on a pair of Conley free throws with 9:34 to play.
A Jamar Butler 3 gave the Buckeyes a 72-68 lead with 6:56 left but Childress sandwiched a couple of treys around one by JaJuan Smith, and the 9-2 spurt put the Vols on top 77-74 with 4:40 remaining.
The score was tied at 79, 82 and 84 – the latter coming when Ramar Smith made one of two foul shots with 38.7 seconds left. Conley broke the final deadlock by making the first of two free throws with 6.5 seconds left. When he missed the second, Ramar Smith grabbed the long rebound and raced upcourt on what he hoped would be the game-winning drive.
Oden had other ideas, leaping over a Buckeye teammate to slap the ball away from the basket and seal the dramatic victory.