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Tennessee unseats No. 1 Memphis in a thriller

Bryan Mullen Tennessean

MEMPHIS, Tenn. – It was one for the ages, one that lived up to the hype, and one that will be remembered for decades.

And Monday, Tennessee will be the No. 1 men’s college basketball team in the nation.

It was a 40-minute sprint, featuring dazzling speed and enough talent to fill an entire conference. And when it was over, No. 2 Tennessee made history and beat No. 1 Memphis 66-62 Saturday night before a rowdy crowd of 18,389 at Fed-ExForum.

It was the first time UT (25-2) has defeated a No. 1 team since 1969 when the Vols beat No. 1 South Carolina 55-54. Memphis (26-1) had a 45-game regular-season winning streak and a 47-game home winning streak broken.

“ESPN got a real treat,” UT coach Bruce Pearl said alluding to the game being televised. “We’re very pleased coming here and winning. … Two years ago, we knocked Florida off from their unbeaten ranks. Now we have done it again here against Memphis.”

“You guys all said we needed to lose one, so we lost one,” Memphis coach John Calapari told the assembled media.

“Great game. I have to give them credit. They scrapped, they battled. I thought we had them at the end. They made plays and we didn’t, which is really unusual for us. We miss a shot, they make a shot. They come up with balls, we don’t. You lose.”

The final three minutes were some of the most entertaining in any game this season. Memphis’ Chris Douglas-Roberts (14 points) turned a UT turnover into an easy layin to put the Tigers up 61-58 with 2:19 left. UT’s Tyler Smith (16 points) had a layin moments later to cut the deficit to 61-60.

Memphis was called for a travel with 41 seconds remaining and Smith hit a tough jumper in the lane with 26 seconds to go to give UT a 62-61 lead.

“They got the ball to me and coach was trying to get the ball inside the whole game,” Smith said. “I got it and just tried to make a basket.”

Following the make, Memphis’ Antonio Anderson missed badly on a shot attempt with 8.8 seconds remaining. UT’s J.P. Prince (13 points) grabbed the rebound and was fouled. Prince entered shooting 46.7 percent from the free-throw line, and his first attempt rattled around before going in. His second hit nothing but net.

“It was a pressure situation and we stepped up,” Prince said. “I wanted those free throws and knew I was going to knock them down. I’m glad they went in.”

But it wasn’t over quite yet.

Memphis inbounded the ball and Derrick Rose (game-high 23 points) was purposely fouled with 4.5 seconds remaining. He made the first, purposely missed the second, but UT’s Chris Lofton (seven points, five rebounds) grabbed the rebound and was fouled with 2.9 seconds remaining. He calmly made both free throws to seal the victory.

“Like Coach always says, we’re better when everyone contributes,” said Lofton, who entered averaging 15.4 points. “Some people aren’t going to have their best games every night. You just have to pick your teammates up and that’s what we did.”

“They just outplayed us,” said Memphis’ Robert Dozier.

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