Up by as many as 15 points in the first half, Tennessee uncharacteristically wilted down the stretch – being outscored 40-33 in the second half and 16-6 in overtime.
"I thought Gonzaga's experience and maturity down the stretch really made a huge difference in the second half," Pearl said on his post-game show. "They really did whatever they wanted to do offensively."
With Vol guard Scotty Hopson slowed by a flu-type virus, fill-in Tatum stepped into the lineup and scored a career-high 22 points. After producing 19 in the first half and nailing a 3-pointer to open the second half, however, Tatum would not score again.
Once their lone hot shooter cooled, the 15th-ranked Vols struggled mightily – defensively, as well as offensively – the rest of the way. Tatum finished 5 of 10 from 3-point range but his teammates were a combined 1 of 18 from beyond the arc.
"Offensively, we just couldn't make shots," Pearl said. "It's really hard against zone when you can't get another perimeter basket."
Tennessee was almost as inaccurate from up-close as from long-range, though, shooting just 36.3 percent (29 of 80) overall. Conversely, Gonzaga shot 52.5 percent (31 of 59) from the field and 47.6 percent (10 of 21) from 3.
The Vols led 31-16 with 12 minutes gone and 40-33 at intermission. Down 45-33 a minute into the second half, however, unranked Gonzaga used a 19-4 explosion to move ahead 52-49. Two 3-point baskets by Steven Gray, one by Austin Daye and one by Matt Bouldin sparked the outburst.
Trailing 64-59, Tennessee showed some grit with an 8-2 spurt that produced a 67-66 edge with 6:55 to play. The lead then seesawed until an acrobatic scoop shot by Tyler Smith tied the score at 73 with 25.5 seconds left in regulation.
With Hopson limited by a virus and with several teammates struggling, Tennessee's starters played most of regulation. As a result, they were gassed heading into overtime, and it showed.
"Normally we spread the minutes," Pearl noted. "We play best when everybody contributes. Brian Williams, Josh Tabb and Renaldo Woolridge were guys that (usually) come off the bench but I just didn't think they were playing well, so I wanted to stay with Bobby (Maze) and I wanted to stay with J.P. (Prince). As a result, we were too tired to finish off the overtime period."
Obviously. Gonzaga scored the first seven points in OT as Daye sandwiched two free throws and a 3 around a backdoor cut by Bouldin. Up 80-73, the Bulldogs then sealed the deal by hitting one basket and seven of eight free throws the rest of the way.
Bouldin finished with a career-high 26 points. Daye chipped in 20, Josh Heytvelt 15 and Gray 14.
Besides Tatum, Tennessee got production from Smith (17 points), Wayne Chism (15 points, 19 rebounds) and Prince (11 points).
Both teams now stand 9-4.