UT joins the elite

With one second left, the greatest player in college basketball went up for the most important shot of his career ... and a player known for fouling 3-point shooters went up with him.

The odds seemed to favor the shooter, Ohio State's Evan Turner, over the defender, Tennessee's J.P. Prince. But Prince beat the odds this time, blocking Turner's shot to seal a thrilling 76-73 victory that sends the Vols to the NCAA Tournament's Elite Eight for the first time in program history.

Sixth-seeded Tennessee, now 28-8, plays at 1:20 Central Sunday in the Midwest Region finals at St. Louis against fifth-seeded Michigan State (27-8), which advanced with a 59-52 defeat of ninth-seeded Northern Iowa. Second-seeded Ohio State bows out of The Dance at 29-8.

Despite being the focal point of the Vol defense, Turner scored 31 points, including a clutch 3-pointer that gave the Buckeyes a 73-72 lead with 41.4 seconds left. A tip-in by Brian Williams at 32.1 seconds and two free throws by Bobby Maze at 12.9 put Tennessee up 76-73, however, setting the stage for the dramatic finish.

Turner missed a potential game-tying 3-pointer from the left corner but got the ball back at the top of the key after a mad scramble for the rebound. The second shot never left his hand, however, as Prince went up and stuffed the ball back into Turner's palm. When no whistle sounded, the upset was complete.

In addition to his game-clinching block, Prince foiled two late OSU possessions with a steal and a deflection in the final two minutes. None of this surprised Bruce Pearl in the least.

The Vol coach noted that one of the keys to the game was "J.P. making two or three crucial stops on Turner late in the game, putting him in position to demonstrate that he truly is one of the best players in the country that nobody really knows about."

They'll know about him now. In addition to Prince's defensive heroics, the 6-8 senior recorded 14 points and 6 assists in helping the streaking Vols post their eighth win in the last nine games.

Challenging a 3-point shooter is risky. Challenging a 3-point shooter who happens to be the most celebrated player in college hoops is tempting fate. Still, Prince said he had no reservations about trying to block Turner's final shot.

"I didn't really think about it," Prince said. "You've got to contest the shot. I knew he was going to flail (as if he'd been fouled). That's going to happen anytime at the end of the game. But I had a clean block. I used my length. I had to make a play."

Prince wasn't Tennessee's only hero. Fellow senior Wayne Chism scored 18 of his team-high 22 points in the second half as the Vols rallied from a 42-39 halftime deficit.

Asked what triggered his second-half eruption, Chism replied: "The difference in the second half was I started to put the ball higher off the glass. The first half I was putting it up soft and it was coming up short every time. I had to adjust the way I shot the ball, and the second half I did a great job of finishing."

Chism also grabbed 11 rebounds, combining with Williams (12) to help Tennessee dominate the backboards 41-29.

Williams was among four Vols suspended after a Jan. 1 traffic stop resulted in drug and weapons charges. Star player Tyler Smith ultimately was dismissed. Williams served a nine-game suspension, while Cameron Tatum and Melvin Goins served four-game suspensions. Somehow the team rallied from that ugly incident and jelled in March.

"We've been through a lot of adversity," Prince said, "and I think we've done a great job of actually deserving victory.... We knew our team could compete with anybody if we played as a team."

The Vols certainly played as a team vs. Ohio State. Tatum came off the bench to score 11 points - all in the first half when the Buckeyes were threatening to pull away. Maze added 10 points. Steven Pearl, Josh Bone and Goins provided feisty defense off the bench.

Tennessee's defense was so good that Jon Diebler, the most prolific 3-point scorer in OSU history and a 42.9-percent shooter from behind the arc this season, made just 1 of 8 shots, including 1 of 7 from 3. William Buford, who scored 15 points for the Buckeyes, made just 5 of 13 shots. Even Turner had to work for everything he got, making 10 of 23 shots and committing 6 turnovers en route to his 31 points.

"It was a spectacular game," Pearl said. "Our cagey veterans, Wayne Chism and J.P. Prince, obviously really stepped up."

Especially with one second to go, when a guy known for fouling 3-point shooters made the defensive play of the year on the college game's greatest player.

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