Last-second basket lifts 2nd-seeded Volunteers

Tennessee 63 Winthrop 61

Ncaa Tournament

March 17, 2006|By PAUL MCMULLEN | PAUL MCMULLEN,SUN REPORTER

GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Chris Lofton and a clock adjustment saved Tennessee.

Lofton's 19-foot two-pointer with 0.4 of a second remaining yesterday gave the Volunteers a dramatic 63-61 victory over Winthrop in the first round of the Washington Regional.

Tennessee avoided becoming the fifth No. 2 seed and the first since 2001 to lose in the first round, because the 15th-seeded Eagles might have gotten an overtime if not for a TV review.

With the Volunteers in possession and coach Bruce Pearl signaling for a timeout, he got one with 1.8 showing on the scoreboard. Two officials viewed replays and set the clock at 2.9. Without the added time, Lofton wouldn't have gotten off the shot and continued Tennessee's own Cinderella story.

The Volunteers, No. 18 in the Associated Press poll after being a preseason pick to finish in the bottom half of the Southeastern Conference, will continue their first NCAA appearance since 2001 tomorrow, against Wichita State, in the second round.

Lofton, voted the best shooter in the SEC in a Sports Illustrated players poll, was scoreless in the second half until he delivered the biggest shot of his career.

A 6-foot-2 sophomore from Maysville, Ky., who was voted first-team All-SEC, Lofton took an inbounds pass, drifted into the right corner and shot over the outstretched arms of 6-5 Torrell Martin.

"I didn't get a real clear look," Lofton said. "I just saw the goal and fired it up there."

After a timeout, Winthrop's James Shuler inbounded the length of the court. His baseball pass went off the backboard and was touched by a Tennessee player before the Eagles' Craig Bradshaw gathered the ball and flipped it off the rim.

It fell out, but even if it had gone, the officials probably would have reviewed that, too.

"Totally devastating, the way things went down," Shuler said.

The game included 12 ties and 11 lead changes, but both sides appeared too tired or stressed to make a basket down the stretch. Neither shot better than 36 percent from the field in the second half.

Lofton's basket was the second jump shot Tennessee (22-7) made in the last 13 minutes. Shuler's three-pointer from the right side with 3:24 remaining were the only points over the final 8:52 for Big South Conference champion Winthrop (23-8). Tennessee guard Dane Bradshaw air-balled a free throw and made the second with 2:42 remaining to create the tie at 61.

It was a memorable day for Pearl, Tennessee's first-year coach. He came from Wisconsin-Milwaukee, which got to the Sweet 16 last year and upset Oklahoma yesterday.

Major Wingate, Tennessee's sophomore center, was the only player to prosper in the second half, when he got 13 of his game-high 15 points. Lofton's foul-burdened backcourt partner C.J. Watson and senior forward Andre Patterson combined for 29 points in the first half, but only two in the second.

Martin led Winthrop with 14 points and 13 rebounds.

"I think they [Winthrop] could come into the SEC and give everybody a run for their money," Wingate said.

paul.mcmullen@baltsun.com

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