In December 2008, Belmont guard Alex Renfroe missed three free throws in the final 28 seconds as Tennessee beat the Bruins 79-77.
During this year’s season-opening NIT Season Tip-Off game at UT, the free throw bug bit the Bruins again. Mick Hedgepeth stood at the line with 36.6 seconds left with a chance to tie the score. The first one fell, but the second came up short.
From there, Tennessee made free throws down the stretch and closed out an 85-76 win.
But what made the game unique were the series of events that led to Hedgepeth’s fateful trip to the line.
In the first half, the Vols looked down-right inconvenienced. UT’s star, junior guard Scotty Hopson, lazily let his arms dangle at his sides when he didn’t have the ball on offense. When he did get the ball, he took a couple dribbles and let the ball fly.
The Bruins, meanwhile, scrapped on offense and went into halftime down by six, 41-35.
But in the second half, the Vols woke up. Their defense tightened and Belmont got cold. After a Renaldo Woolridge dunk capped a short 8-2 run, the Vols went up 71-54 with 7:01 left. Just when the Bruins were supposed to call it a night, they powered back.
Belmont went on a 22-6 run which was highlighted by three three-pointers by Drew Hanlen to close the gap to 77-76.
“I don’t know how much psychology really plays into it,” Belmont head coach Rick Byrd said. “But what you have to like about our team is that we were down 17 to the No. 23 team on the road and get within a point.”
Tennessee head coach Bruce Pearl praised Belmont’s grittiness down the stretch.
“When Belmont started to press, we should have attacked more. Instead, we got tentative,” Pearl said. “(Belmont) stepped up and made some big shots.”
Belmont guard Ian Clark kept the Bruins close by tallying 13 points in the first half. He went down late in the game with what appeared like a lower leg injury, but returned to action, only to rim out a late three.
The Bruins will play Arkansas State tomorrow night in the consolation game. Tennessee will play Missouri State with a chance to advance to the NIT Season Tip-Off Semifinals at Madison Square Garden.