Tennessee basketball is national championship material. The Vols showed it Sunday. Tennessee 76, Gonzaga 73. That’s the same Gonzaga that beat Duke. The previously unbeaten Zags were ranked No. 1. And they fell to the Vols.
Admiral Schofield’s three-pointer with 22 seconds remaining proved to be the difference. The 6-foot-6 senior scored 25 of his career-high 30 points in the second half. He scored the Vols’ 11 points. He was 12-of-22 from the floor, including 6-of-10 from three-point range. He also grabbed six rebounds.
“No. 1 Gonzaga and No. 7 Tennessee played close to the final seconds, and in doing so gave college basketball arguably its best game of the season so far,” wrote Matt Norlander of CBS Sports. “Or maybe there’s no argument to be had in that regard. If Gonzaga beating No. 1 Duke in the Maui Invitational title game on Nov. 21 was considered the apex to this point, then Tennessee ending Gonzaga’s undefeated run -- and getting there thanks to a superhero performance by an unexpected character -- usurps it.”
The victory in the Jerry Colangelo Hall of Fame Classic in Phoenix was a shot in the arm for the SEC. Through Saturday’s game, Jeff Sagarin’s computer rankings placed the SEC as the fourth-best league behind the Big 10, the Big 12 and the ACC. Through Sunday’s games, Ken Pomeroy ranked the SEC fourth, as well. But kenpom puts the Big 12 first, followed by the Big 10 and the ACC.
Ranked seventh in last week’s AP Top 25, Tennessee should climb Monday. The Vols are 7-1. Their lone loss came in overtime to now No. 2 Kansas 87-81 in the final of the NIT Tip-Off back on Nov. 23. They own wins over Georgia Tech, Louisville and now Gonzaga.
It was Tennessee’s first win over a No. 1-ranked AP team since Bruce Pearl’s Vols beat Kansas 76-68 on Jan. 10, 2010. Hopkinsville product Scotty Hopson led the Vols with 17 points that day.
“Honestly, in reality, it’s a big statement,” said Schofield after Sunday’s win, according to the Knoxville News-Sentinel. “We’re not going to act like it’s not a big deal.”
Grant Williams added 16 points and 12 rebounds for the Vols before fouling out with 2:30 left. And Jordan Bowden gave Tennessee a lift with 11 points off the bench as the Vols fought back from a 64-55 deficit with 6:14 left.
NBC Sports’ College Basketball Talk moved Duke back into the No. 1 spot in its Top 25, followed by Michigan at No. 2, Tennessee at No. 3 and Gonzaga at No. 4. (Kentucky is not in the CBT Top 25).
Tennessee is at Memphis on Saturday. Down the line, Kentucky gets Rick Barnes’ Vols twice. The two teams play at Rupp Arena on Feb. 16. The return date in Knoxville is scheduled for March 2.