Ramar's revenge?

With Tennessee down 85-84 in its NCAA Sweet 16 game against Ohio State last March, Ramar Smith's drive to the basket ended when his potential game-winning 4-footer was swatted away at the buzzer by 7-foot Greg Oden.

The 6-2 Vol sophomore must've replayed that moment in his mind thousands of times since then.

"That's something I think about," Ramar Smith said this week, "but things happen. He (Oden) was the No. 1 draft pick, so what more can I say?"

Nothing, except that it would be extra sweet to avenge that Sweet 16 loss when the Buckeyes visit Thompson-Boling Arena for a 3:30 tipoff this Saturday.

Ohio State also edged Tennessee during the 2006-07 regular season, so you'd figure Smith is eager to face the Buckeyes again.

"Of course," he said. "Just losing two close games we know we could've won and should've won (makes the game meaningful). We look back on that, so we're going to come out Saturday and play hard. But we always play hard."

Smith played awfully hard in Thursday night's 80-60 defeat of No. 16 Vanderbilt. He matched his career high with 9 assists and committed just 1 turnover in 21 minutes at the point. He also did some outstanding defensive work as UT limited Vandy's hot-shooting guards to just 3-of-21 shooting from 3-point range.

Smith played so poorly in November that he lost his first-team job three games into the 2007-08 season. He has been playing so well lately, however, that his confidence seems to be soaring.

"I always had confidence," he said. "Really, it's just working hard. When you work hard, good things happen."

You get to play at the end of games, for instance. Although senior Jordan Howell started Thursday's game at the point, Smith was running the attack at the end.

"Ramar finished the game tonight," head coach Bruce Pearl noted. "Jordan had played very well – knocked down some shots – but Jordan had exhausted himself defensively. There wasn't a lot of gas left in his tank.

Although Smith has been relegated to coming off the bench the past 13 games, he accepts the role without complaint.

"Ramar hasn't said a word to me about starting, hasn't said a word to me about finishing," Pearl said. "What's the point? He wants to play and wants to win. He knows I've got tremendous confidence in him. Otherwise, he wouldn't be out there. And he obviously responds."

The season's low point for Smith occurred in a November game against Prairie View A&M, when he went 0 for 12 from the foul line. He was so embarrassed that he totally dedicated himself to getting better.

"I shoot so many free throws it ain't funny," he said.

The strategy may not be funny but it's effective. He has made his last 12 foul shots in a row – going 8 for 8 last Saturday against South Carolina and 4 for 4 last night vs. Vandy. Perhaps the debacle against Prairie View will prove to be a blessing.

"Things happen," Smith said with a shrug. "I guess that had to happen for me to shoot a thousand free throws a day."

With a 15-1 record and a No. 6 national ranking, the Vols could be headed for the NCAA Final Four. That goal is a lot more realistic if Ramar Smith continues playing the way he has the past few games.

"It helps us a lot," senior guard JaJuan Smith said. "We need Ramar to keep this thing going. Without Ramar, we wouldn't be where we are. He's just being patient, waiting for his time and playing his game."


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