Feb. 21, 2007
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- As Tennessee went nearly six minutes without scoring against No. 25 Alabama, Chris Lofton saw his team's chances of making the NCAA tournament starting to fade.
The Volunteers and Lofton kept shooting and forcing turnovers and eventually rallied to beat the Crimson Tide 69-66 in overtime on Wednesday.
Lofton scored 20 points and JaJuan Smith added 16 for Tennessee (19-9, 7-6 Southeastern Conference), which improved to 15-0 at home this season.
The Vols are hoping to get an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament, despite winning only one game on the road this season and none in the SEC.
The Crimson Tide (19-8, 6-7), also trying to stay in the NCAA mix, came back from nine points down in the second half but struggled with a season-high 26 turnovers. Alabama had won seven straight over Tennessee.
Tennessee went back ahead 53-52 on Smith's 3 with 8:20 to go, but then the Vols didn't score again until Lofton hit a 3 with 2:43 left.
"I was going, 'Please just don't let us lose. Just let us find a way to win.' That's what was going through my mind," Lofton said. "I thought the NCAA tournament is on the line right here."
Tennessee has three regular-season games and the SEC tournament left to pad its resume.
"I don't know if it's enough. We want to work to get better. We want to go on the road and see if we can win," coach Bruce Pearl said. "We've played well on the road - not recently."
After Lofton's 3, Ramar Smith scored again for Tennessee to tie it at 58. Lofton made a pair of free throws to put the Vols up again.
Then Alabama's Ronald Steele forced overtime by tying it at 60 when he scored with 7.4 seconds left in regulation and Lofton's shot at the buzzer was way off.
"We had enough chances. We had leads. We had the ball, and we needed to make plays and we didn't," Alabama coach Mark Gottfried said.
In overtime, Alabama scored the first four points, but Lofton hit a 3 with 2:58 remaining. Tennessee didn't trail again, but it was a frantic ending.
Alabama's Jermareo Davidson was fouled going for a rebound with 9.6 seconds left and made both free throws to cut it to 67-66, but Alabama didn't foul afterward and Tennessee's Duke Crews dunked at the other end to seal the win.
"Prior to that, it was foul anyone but Lofton, so there was some confusion. They were instructed to foul, but after hearing don't foul Lofton for five minutes, there was confusion and that's OK," Gottfried said.
Reserve Mykal Riley led the Tide with 15 points, while Richard Hendrix added 10 points and 10 rebounds. Davidson finished with 15 rebounds.
Wayne Chism added 11 points for the Vols, who attempted a season-high 81 field goals but only made 27.
Tennessee got 20 points off Alabama's turnovers and had a season-high 18 steals. The Tide was 24-of-55 from the field.
"You had two teams fighting for their NCAA tournament lives. Alabama is playing for first-place in the West," Pearl said. "The effort our kids gave tonight was nothing short of outstanding. When you have a team like Alabama turn it over more than they had field goals, I thought our ball pressure and our effort was spectacular."
The Tide entered the game in a three-way tie for the lead in the crowded West standings. Co-leaders Mississippi and Mississippi State won their games Wednesday night. The Tide dropped to 1-6 on the road in the SEC.
Alabama trailed from the middle of the first half until 9:16 left in the second when Riley hit a 3 to end a 15-4 run and put the Tide up 50-48. The Vols had been ahead 44-35 with 13:40 to go.
Tennessee quickly regained the lead after a basket and 3-pointer by JaJuan Smith.
But then the game got ugly with neither team scoring a field goal for several minutes, and even the scoreboard went out momentarily.
Alabama took back the lead by going 4-of-6 from the free-throw line while Tennessee was scoreless.
Alabama had 16 turnovers by halftime. The Tide's previous season high was 18.
"We couldn't worry about mistakes or turnovers. We just had to outplay them, and we did the second half but they made big shots," Steele said.
Tennessee's biggest lead of the first half was 30-20 with 5:44 remaining after a tapback by Ryan Childress. But afterward, the Tide scored the final six points of the half to cut it to 30-26 at the break.