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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee was staring at a double-digit halftime deficit and the likelihood of a fourth straight loss Saturday when Admiral Schofield made a bold prediction.
As the Volunteers gathered in the locker room, Schofield said if they played stronger defense, their shots eventually would start falling.
That's exactly what happened.
Schofield made a 3-pointer with 1:58 left to put Tennessee ahead for good as the Vols rallied from 16 points down to beat Alabama 59-54 in the regular-season finale for both teams. Tennessee snapped a three-game skid and produced its biggest comeback of the season for a major confidence boost heading into next week's Southeastern Conference Tournament in Nashville, Tennessee.
"I hope that we start getting our confidence back, our swagger back and start playing with a little more emotion and pride and take that into Nashville and try to get some wins," Schofield said.
This game represented a giant step forward, as Tennessee's defense set up its offense.
Grant Williams had 16 points and 10 rebounds as Tennessee (16-15, 8-10 SEC) limited Alabama (17-13, 10-8) to just 18 second-half points. Alabama shot 6 of 24 in the second half after Tennessee shot just 6 of 30 in the first half.
"I said something to the effect at the start of the game that this was the last time we were in this building this year and I want to see us play hard," Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said. "That's all I want to see them do — play hard and compete. I thought the last 20 minutes we did that. That was the team that wanted to prove something earlier in the year, when there were no expectations."
The Crimson Tide led 40-24 with less than 18 minutes left before Tennessee stormed back with a 16-2 run. The Volunteers finally pulled ahead 48-47 with 8:35 left when Williams sank a 3-pointer from in front of Tennessee's bench as the shot clock expired.
Alabama regained the lead on a Corban Collins 3-pointer with 7:29 left that sparked a 6-0 run. Tennessee answered with nine straight points of its own on a trio of 3-pointers — two from Lew Evans and the go-ahead shot from Schofield.
"That (first half) was picture perfect — good balance, great defense and we made some shots and hit the open man," Alabama coach Avery Johnson said. "Then in the second half, it's kind of been a microcosm of our entire season in terms of getting stuck and having too many wasted possessions on offense."
Riley Norris scored 13 points — all in the first half — and Braxton Key had 12 for Alabama. Evans had 13 points and Schofield added 10 for Tennessee.
Alabama: The Tide's sizzling performance from 3-point range in the first half seemed like a mirage. Alabama entered the day shooting 31.1 percent from 3-point range to rank 13th out of 14 SEC teams, ahead of only Missouri. Sure enough, after making seven of its first eight 3-point attempts, Alabama missed eight of its last nine.
Tennessee: The Vols beat Alabama at its own game by outrebounding the Tide 40-32. Tennessee also had an 11-5 edge in second-chance points. Alabama entered the day with a plus-6 rebound margin that led the SEC.
In the first half, Alabama was 7 of 9 and Tennessee was 1 of 12 from 3-point range. In the second half, Tennessee was 6 of 11 from beyond the arc while Alabama was 1 of 8.
Tennessee guard Jordan Bone was held out of the starting lineup Saturday and played just three minutes. Bone has made 17 starts and has been the Vols' main point guard for most of the season.
"Our guard defense has been so bad over this stretch we made a decision as a coaching staff we're going to put our best defensive guards out there," Barnes said.
Alabama is the No. 5 seed in the SEC tournament and will face either No. 12 seed Mississippi State or No. 13 seed LSU on Thursday.
Tennessee is the No. 9 seed in the SEC tournament and will face No. 8 seed Georgia on Thursday.
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