Vols Topple Number One Ranked Gonzaga in a Thriller

Tennessee had a chance to knock off a highly ranked team just seventeen days ago but couldn’t seal the deal against Kansas. The Vols got another crack today against the top-ranked Gonzaga Bulldogs in a neutral site game out in Phoenix. And this time, Admiral Schofield wouldn’t let another chance for an early season, resume-building win slip away. For just the fifth time in program history, the Vols toppled the no.1 ranked team with a 76-73 victory over the ‘Zags.

Admiral Schofield Takes Over

Where to even start with how special of a game the senior forward had. After a poor-shooting game against Kansas in the final of the NIT Tip-Off, Schofield simply refused to let Tennessee lose. He finished with a game and career-high 30 points, twenty five in the second half. He made six threes on the day as well.

With just over three minutes left in the game and the Zags up by three, Schofield decided to take over:

  • Made three to tie game, 68-68.
  • Made jumper to cut deficit to 1, 71-70 (after Grant Williams fouled out).
  • Made three (banked it in) to put Vols up 73-71
  • Made three to give Vols back the lead, 76-73.

So basically Schofield did nothing more than score Tennessee’s last 11 points, arguably cementing one of the best performance by a Volunteers basketball player in quite some time. After Grant Williams fouled out with just over three minutes to play, Schofield scored 8 points to carry Tennessee over the finish line.

That was a Grown Man’s Game

This match-up between two of the nation’s best teams was a grown man’s affair. Look no further than the Zags’ forward Brandon Clarke’s rejection of Yves Pons at the rim.

Admiral Schofield and Gonzaga guard Zach Norvell Jr. trading trash talk throughout the second half. Grant Williams had a monster block on Zags’ star Rui Hachimura at the rim. The stars on both teams came to play. Hachimura battled foul trouble but finished with 21 and 8 boards, while Grant Williams flirted with a triple double before fouling out (16, 12 rebounds, and 7 assists).

Gonzaga threatened to put the Vols away multiple times late in the second half. Fortunate for Tennessee, Schofield and guard Jordan Bowden continued to empty the clip and fire away shots from deep with great success. Between the two shooters, Tennessee had 24 points in the second half come by way of 8 made three pointers — none bigger than Schofield’s back-to-back triples in the last 1:20 of the game.

Player of the Game and Momentum-Changing Play(s)

Is there really any question? Admiral Schofield turned in one of the finest performances of any Volunteer basketball player in a long, long time. Not since Chris Lofton hit a three-pointer over the outstretched hand of Kevin Durant of the Texas Longhorns (who at the time were coached by none other than Rick Barnes) have Tennessee fans seen a performance like Schofield’s. Lofton had 35 in that overtime win against Texas, but Schofield did it against the best team in the country.

In addition to bucking conventional wisdom that the bank is not open on Sunday with a huge 3 that caught glass, Schofield buried an NBA range shot from deep the next trip down that proved to be the difference.

After the final buzzer, commentator Sean Farnham caught up with the player of the game. Schofield talked about how a big reason he returned for his senior season was to become Rick Barnes favorite player he’d ever coached. With a few more performances like this, he’s got as good of a chance as anybody.

Final Thoughts

The win gave Rick Barnes his biggest victory yet as coach of the Vols. It also represented the first time since 2010 that Tennessee beat a number one ranked team. Tennessee dropped in the last AP Poll even with two straight victories, but look for this win to catapult the Vols firmly into the top 5 with tomorrow’s release of the rankings.

Tennessee enjoys the next couple of days off before heading west to take on the Memphis Tigers. With the rivalry renewed and buoyed by new Tigers head coach Penny Hardaway, check back this week for more BarnBurner content on next week’s UT-Memphis battle for state bragging rights.

 

Banner Photo by Joe Camporeale

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