Jan. 16, 2010
BY JOSH PATE, UTSports.com
His nine points and three rebounds wouldn't normally stand out after a hard-nosed, overtime Southeastern Conference victory, but for Josh Bone and No. 9 Tennessee, it was a game changer.
Tennessee's thrilling 71-69 win Saturday against No. 21 Mississippi was made possible by Wayne Chism's 3-pointers midway through the second half, pulling the Vols from an eight-point deficit to within two points at 54-52. But after a turnover by the Rebels, it was Bone who nailed a 3 to give UT the lead for the first time.
The victory was sealed down the stretch by six Chism free throws in the final minute, lifting Tennessee from a one-point deficit to a five-point lead. But all that was set up by blanket defense from Bone.
Chism had the line of the night: 26 points, 12 rebounds, perfect from the foul line. But Bone's defense won the game.
His corralling of Ole Miss star guard Chris Warren down the stretch earned Bone time on the floor ahead of starter Bobby Maze. Bone played the final minutes of regulation, then stayed in the duration of overtime.
"Josh was playing great defense and that's the only reason," UT head coach Bruce Pearl said when asked about Bone going ahead of Maze. "It was not a punishment to Bobby at all. Bobby played so well and so hard against Auburn, he didn't have any legs. I had no choice, so we stayed with Josh defensively.
"It was a tremendous defensive effort by both teams. Both teams really competed. Defense and rebounding won that game, and that's what will win championships for us."
Bone proved it can at least beat Mississippi.
With less than two minutes to play in overtime and the game tied, a physical Bone bumped with Warren, and Warren lost the ball. On the other end, after searching for an open shot during their set play, the Vols swung it around to Bone who nailed a 3 from the corner to make it 64-61.
Then with 15 seconds remaining and the Vols up 68-65, Bone again forced Warren into a turnover. Chism was fouled immediately and made his free throws to eventually put the game away.
"We led this conference in fewest turnovers per game - the strength of our team is in the backcourt - and we turned it over 21 times," said Mississippi head coach Andy Kennedy. "And not only do we turn it over, but we turn it over in situations that led directly to points for them, and I thought that was the turning point."
Bone said being physical with Warren was the key.
"He was very quick, but I knew I had a size advantage on him," Bone said. "Coach had a good game plan against him, so I just tried to listen to Coach and what he told me to do and use my strength to hold him off when he drove."
Warren still managed to score 19 points although he was 5-of-18 shooting. But Pearl spotted a different twist.
"Warren couldn't turn the corner on him," Pearl said. "Warren had one assist and five turnovers. That's Josh Bone."
For Bone, the most impressive stat may have been 26, as in his 26 minutes of action on Saturday, which was fourth-highest on the team despite being the third man off the bench. It only reinforced a noticeable trend of increased minutes for the junior walk-on who transferred from Southern Illinois and wasn't eligible until the Dec. 15 game against Wyoming.
Now with backup point guard Melvin Goins having been suspended - Goins and Cameron Tatum will be reinstated Sunday - it has increased Bone's responsibilities. And with him not naturally being a point guard, he's had to transition into a combo guard depending on the opponent.
"As a combo guard, you face playing 1 and 2 all the time, from high school all through my college days," Bone said. "The adjustment was tough on me in the sense of learning the plays, going through practice and studying the film and doing what I can. I just try to take advantage and do the best I can."
So far it's working. He's not lighting up scoreboards every night -- his nine points were a season-high Saturday - but the timing of his shots and defensive intensity are paying dividends for the Vols.
For Pearl, it's a sigh of relief.
"I'd seen him play one time in high school," Pearl said. "I went to watch Willie Kemp (Memphis) and Wayne (Chism) play against Brandan Wright (Golden State Warriors) and Josh Bone. Brandan Wright could not score on Wayne. Wayne could not score on Brandan. Willie Kemp could not score on Josh Bone, but Josh Bone could score on Willie Kemp. I was like, who is this guy? At that time, I thought I may have made a mistake. So we're glad to have him."