Prince propels UT

J.P. Prince was too slick and too quick. His Tennessee teammates were too rough and too tough in the clutch. That, in a nutshell, was the key to victory Saturday afternoon.

Down by four points late, the 12th-ranked Vols outscored No. 24 Xavier 13-2 over the game's final 3:38 to trip the Musketeers 82-75 at the Cintas Center in Cincinnati.

Prince, a transfer from Arizona, made 9 of 14 field-goal tries and posted a career-high 23 points in just his third game as a Vol.

"J.P. can make you go ooooh and ahhhh," head coach Bruce Pearl said on his post-game show. "He can knock down the 3. He can take you off the bounce. He can drive right and left. He knifes, he slices, he gets to the foul line. He's a nice calm offensive player."

Prince and his teammates remained calm entering Saturday's final three minutes, in spite of a 73-69 deficit, and their poise proved decisive. All-American Chris Lofton started the game-winning rally with a free throw. Ramar Smith took a 40-foot bounce pass from JaJuan Smith for a transition dunk, then Tyler Smith scored on a steal and drive, giving the Vols a 74-73 lead with 2:17 to go.

A diving loose-ball save by Ramar Smith led to a Tyler Smith basket on a goaltend and a Ramar Smith assist set up a Wayne Chism layup, capping a 9-0 spurt that turned the four-point deficit into a five-point lead (78-73) with 48 seconds remaining.

Xavier's Drew Lavender narrowed the gap to 78-75 with a couple of free throws with 40.6 seconds left but Tyler Smith and Jordan Howell drained two foul shots each down the stretch to expand the lead.

Tyler Smith and Wayne Chism chipped in 12 points each for Tennessee, which has won six games in a row since a 97-78 loss to Texas in the Legends Classic.

Though best known for its explosive offense, Tennessee forced 21 turnovers by the usually sure-handed Musketeers.

"To turn them over like we did – to keep the turnovers down ourselves – was very positive," Pearl said.

Saving its best for last, the Vol defense held Xavier without a basket over the game's final 5:44.

"That's just the will to win," Pearl said. "JaJuan Smith at the 3:47 timeout talked to the guys. (He made sure) there wasn't going to be anything along the lines of focus or effort or intensity that was going to cost us a defensive stop."

J.P. Prince scored six of his points in the game's opening minutes as the Vols stormed to a 19-8 lead with 12:43 left to intermission. The 6-8, 200-pound sophomore continued using his deceptive quickness to repeatedly slither through the Musketeers for dunks and layups en route to 16 first-half points.

"J.P. really stepped up, and he did it for both halves," Pearl said. "That's what you love to see. J.P. is a gamer, and he was ready to go today.

"The whole team was ready to go. We had great respect for this Xavier team. We knew what the challenges were. You could see it before the game; we were super-duper ready."

Stanley Burrell scored 18 points for Xavier, which slips to 8-3. C.J. Anderson and Derrick Brown added 12 each for the Musketeers, who fell despite outrebounding Tennessee by 13.

The Vols have a week off before playing No. 16 Gonzaga Saturday, Dec. 29 as part of the Comcast Battle In Seattle.

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