No. 21 Tennessee squeaks past Furman 66-61
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By STEVE MEGARGEE
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Tennessee delivered the last-minute plays it failed to make three days earlier.
The 21st-ranked Volunteers needed that kind of late production to avoid a second straight loss
Grant Williams scored a tiebreaking basket with 54 seconds left Wednesday night as Tennessee outlasted Furman 66-61 to snap the Paladins' five-game winning streak. Tennessee barely survived a game that featured 13 ties and 14 lead changes.
"We found a way at the end," Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said. "You've got to do that sometimes when you're not playing your best."
Tennessee was coming off a 78-73 loss to No. 5 North Carolina on Sunday in which it failed to execute late. The Vols had led North Carolina most of the way before allowing nine straight points in the final minute.
"It really left a bitter taste in my mouth, so I wanted to make an impact tonight," said Tennessee's Admiral Schofield, who had 12 points and a career-high 13 rebounds.
Both Tennessee and North Carolina apparently suffered a hangover effect from that game. While Tennessee barely escaped Furman on Wednesday, North Carolina lost 79-75 at home to Wofford. Those two surprising results involving Southern Conference teams occurred one night after Mercer suffered a narrow 80-79 loss at Alabama.
"To me, our conference is top two or top three as far as midmajors," said Furman guard Devin Sibley, who scored 22 points. "We're a force to be reckoned with. We have good talent there. We're not something to be joked around with."
Sibley, a graduate of Karns High School in Knoxville, returned to his hometown and scored 19 second-half points to get Furman within striking distance. Sibley scored Furman's first 13 points of the second half to help the Paladins erase a 10-point deficit.
The Paladins barely came up short in the end.
Jordan Bowden scored 21 points for Tennessee while Williams had 14. Williams made the go-ahead basket in the final minute when he made a move in the paint and scored to break a 61-all tie.
After the teams exchanged turnovers, Furman's John Davis III slipped and lost control of the ball while in front of the Furman bench with 22 seconds left. Tennessee's James Daniel III was fouled and hit one of two free throws to extend Tennessee's lead to 64-61 with 21.3 seconds remaining.
The Paladins' final hope faded away when Sibley missed his driving attempt to cut Tennessee's lead to one. Daniel made two free throws with 5 seconds left to seal the victory.
"Furman should be the story," Barnes said. "They played their hearts out and put themselves in position to win."
Furman: Although Furman couldn't pull off the upset, the Paladins' nine nonconference wins match their highest total since the 1954-55 team went 11-5 in nonconference play. This marked Furman's last game before opening Southern Conference competition.
Tennessee: The Vols benefited from a 47-33 rebounding edge. Tennessee had been outrebounded in five of its last six games.
Furman shot just 39.7 percent from the field. The Paladins had shot 50 percent or better in each of their last four games.
"We've got to be able to finish games like this," Furman coach Bob Richey said. "Our guys played hard enough. I thought they showed a lot of fight tonight. I thought they showed a lot of resiliency to come to a venue like this and get down after halftime and fight back to take the lead, but we've got to continue to figure out a way to close."
Furman is at VMI on Dec. 30.
Tennessee is at Wake Forest on Saturday.
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Updated December 21, 2017