March 16, 2006
GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP) - Chris Lofton's remarkable shot allowed Tennessee to avoid a major upset and sent the Volunteers into the NCAA tournament's second round for the first time in six years.
The sophomore guard took an inbound pass with 2.9 seconds left and rattled home a fallaway jumper from just inside the 3-point line to help the second-seeded Volunteers beat Winthrop 63-61 Thursday in the first round of the Washington Regional.
Craig Bradshaw missed a shot right before the buzzer that would have tied it for the Eagles (23-8), who remained winless in six trips to the tournament. They were trying to become the fifth 15th seed to record an upset in the first round, and the first since 2001. Instead the Volunteers advance to face seventh-seeded Wichita State.
The frantic finish capped a heart-pounding game that featured nine ties and eight lead changes, the final one coming on Lofton's shot. His were the only points in the final 2:42 as both teams squandered chances to advance to the second round.
The Volunteers (22-7) had a couple of opportunities in the final seconds. C.J. Watson missed a 3, but they retained possession when Dane Bradshaw chased down a long rebound on the other end of the court. Coach Bruce Pearl - who led underdog Wisconsin-Milwaukee to two victories in last season's tournament - called a timeout to set up the play for Watson, and Bradshaw fed him the pass.
After the shot went in with four-tenths of a second on the clock, the Tennessee players mobbed Watson. Winthrop coach Gregg Marshall used his final timeout, and James Shuler's long pass bounced off the backboard to Bradshaw. Replays also showed that the ball had hit off a Tennessee player, which should have started the clock, before it got to Bradshaw.
It was a moot point since Bradshaw's hurried shot clanged off the rim, allowing the Volunteers to hang on.
Major Wingate led Tennessee with 15 points, and Torrell Martin finished with 14 points and a career-high 13 rebounds for the Eagles.
Perhaps all those who questioned Tennessee's No. 2 seed were right - after all, the Volunteers limped into the tournament with four losses in its previous six games. Pearl pointed to a fabulous regular season that ended with a Southeastern Conference East Division title, as well as a sweep of the season series with Florida.
It's unlikely winning in this fashion will quiet any of those critics.
Of course, none of that really matters to Marshall and Winthrop. They won the Big South Conference tournament for the sixth time in eight seasons and have little to show for it. Last year, a 10-point loss to Gonzaga ended their season, and now this.
Shuler swished a 3-pointer with about 3 1/2 minutes remaining to give the Eagles their final lead at 61-60, and Bradshaw tied it with a free throw on the other end. Winthrop had turnovers on two straight possessions and Lofton missed an ill-advised jumper from way beyond the line for the Vols.
Finally, Bradshaw got a look to put the Eagles back in front, but his 3-pointer was off, setting up the final sequence.
Andre Patterson had 12 points and 11 rebounds for Tennessee, and Bradshaw scored 12 on 5-of-17 shooting for Winthrop.