Vols outlast Belmont, 79-77

After playing brilliantly for 39 minutes and 50 seconds, Belmont's Alex Renfroe misfired from the foul line in the final 10 seconds, enabling Tennessee to nip the Bruins 79-77 Saturday at Thompson-Boling Arena.

Renfroe, a 6-2 senior guard, used an assortment of slippery drives to burn the 16th-ranked Vols for a career-high 30 points. He twice stepped to the foul line with a chance to tie the score in the waning seconds, however, and each time failed.

The first opportunity occurred with 7.9 seconds left and Tennessee leading 78-76. Renfroe missed the first shot, then made the second, narrowing the gap to 78-77.

After Bobby Maze made one of two free throws for the Vols, padding the gap to 79-77, Renfroe was fouled on a drive to the basket with 1.3 seconds remaining. After missing the first shot, he intentionally missed the second. Teammate Andy Wicke wound up with the loose ball but missed an off-balance 17-footer from the left baseline at the buzzer.

Belmont ranks No. 3 nationally in 3-point baskets and 3-point accuracy, so Tennessee's defensive emphasis was shutting down the perimeter shot. The Bruins made just 4 of 12 tries in the second half, after hitting 5 of 10 before the break.

"They're a team that could've beaten us from 3 but not from 2," Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl said on his post-game show. "They average twelve 3s made per game, and they only had nine. We held them to 41-percent field-goal percentage, which talks about our effort defending these guys. Our guys gave a terrific effort."

Renfroe wasn't the only player to brick clutch free throws down the stretch. Tennessee's Tyler Smith missed the front end of a 1-and-1 that could've given the Vols an 80-76 lead with 1:07 left. Maze missed both ends of a two-shot foul that could've accomplished the same feat with 28.1 seconds left, then missed one of two tries with 7.1 seconds left.

Smith finished with 23 points for Tennessee, now 8-2. Maze chipped in 13 points and Scotty Hopson 10. Wayne Chism speared 12 rebounds, helping Tennessee post a 44-37 advantage in that category.

Shane Dansby added 12 points and Matthew Dotson 10 for the Bruins, now 4-4. Andy Wicke, Belmont's leading scorer at 14 points per game, was held scoreless.

Tennessee trailed 14-11 when freshman Renaldo Woolridge came off the bench to hit three 3-pointers in an 18-10 spurt that put the Vols on top 29-24.

Down 44-40 at intermission, Belmont outscored Tennessee 10-0 to open the second half and build its biggest lead at 50-44. The Vols fought back, however, and took their biggest lead at 75-69 on a Josh Tabb drive with 3:44 remaining. Belmont pulled within a point but Maze hit a 3-pointer to put Tennessee on top 78-74 with 1:44 left, setting up the foul-shooting futility that marred the well-played game's finish.

Tennessee won despite making just 8 of 29 shots from 3-point range, including 2 of 14 in the second half.

"Our guys gutted it out," Pearl said, "and they gutted it out on the defensive end."


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