The Vols took an early lead from doubles but lost five of six first sets to Southern California, eventually falling 4-2 in the final of the NCAA Tennis Championships at the Dan Magill Tennis Complex.
The Volunteers have reached the championship match three times in program history, losing to Georgia in 2001 and Stanford in 1990.
Southern California ends the season as the automatic ITA No. 1-ranked team with a 26-3 record. Tennessee finished 31-2, the second-most wins in a season in program history.
"Got to start with congratulating Southern California," said head coach Sam Winterbotham, who has led the Vols to 94 victories in his first four season with the program. "They did a phenomenal job in the singles. They deserved to win today. Not because we tried any less but because they played to win. I think we didn't. We wanted to win, and maybe we wanted to win a little too much.
"I'm very proud of what we've accomplished."
The tides turned early in singles however when Southern California took leads on nearly every court. Rhyne Williams, who lost his first set to Jaak Polma 1-6, rallied back to win the remaining two sets 6-2, 6-1 for the Vols' only point in singles.
Williams was named to the NCAA All-Tournament Team for his three victories at the No. 3 singles position. Jones and Fago were named to the team for their 4-0 performance at No. 3 doubles.
"It was a wonderful experience," Williams said. "As a team, we're very united. We care a lot for each other. We fought hard as a team today and just came up a little bit short."
In doubles, Smith and Sandgren had lost two consecutive matches entering the finals, but they played well against their highest ranked opponent all season. They got a break midway through the match and defeated second-ranked Robert Farah and Steve Johnson 8-6.
Southern California picked up momentum early in singles. Johnson tied the match 1-1 with a 6-3, 6-2 victory over Conkic on court 2. Williams stormed back on court 3 with his 39th victory of the season to make it 2-1 Tennessee.
Smith lost his second consecutive match for the first time all season, falling 7-6, 6-4 to ninth-ranked Farah on court 1 as the Trojans tied the match 2-2. Southern California then took the lead a few minutes later when Peter Lucassen defeated Matteo Fago 6-3, 6-4 on court 6, which was Fago first loss at the No. 6 position all season.
The Vols had to win matches on courts 4 and 5 to win the title, but that did not happen for Tennessee. Tennys Sandgren had his 15-match winning streak snapped on court 4, falling to Daniel Nguyen 6-7 (3), 6-1, 6-0 to end the match 4-3.
Matt Brewer, in his final match as a Volunteer, was up 3-6, 7-6 (3), 5-4 when Nguyen clinched.
1. #9 Robert Farah (USC) def. #1 J.P. Smith (TENNESSEE) 7-6 (7-3), 6-4
2. #3 Steve Johnson (USC) def. #36 Boris Conkic (TENNESSEE) 6-3, 6-2
3. #45 Rhyne Williams (TENNESSEE) def. #89 Jaak Poldma (USC) 1-6, 6-2, 6-1
4. #83 Daniel Nguyen (USC) def. #111 Tennys Sandgren (TENNESSEE) 6-7 (3-7), 6-1, 6-0
5. #115 Matt Brewer (TENNESSEE) vs. Matt Kecki (USC) 3-6, 7-6 (7-3), 5-4, DNF
6. #121 Peter Lucassen (USC) def. Matteo Fago (TENNESSEE) 6-3, 6-4
1. #3 J.P. Smith/Davey Sandgren (TENN) def. #2 Robert Farah/Steve Johnson (SC) 8-6
2. #12 Rhyne Williams/Boris Conkic (TENN) vs. JT Sundling/Daniel Nguyen (SC) 7-4, DNF
3. Matteo Fago/Edward Jones (TENN) def. Jaak Poldma/Jason McNaughton (SC) 8-6
Order of Finish: Doubles (1,3); Singles (2,3,1,6,4).