ATLANTA -- As Tennessee center Brian Williams sat in the corner of the Volunteers’ locker room in the Georgia Dome on Thursday night, he wasn’t interested in talking about his winning shot in the final minute of a 74-68 victory over Arkansas in the first round of the SEC tournament.
Instead, the fast-talking senior from the Bronx wanted to describe his only 3-pointer of the game.
“They just showed me my stats,” Williams said. “That was the 37th 3-pointer of my career, and I’ve made eight. That’s what I do. The numbers don’t lie.”
Actually, Williams has shot 5-for-14 on 3-pointers during his four-year college career. But who’s really counting?
“Every day,” Williams said. “That’s what I do.”
“That’s all he does,” said Tennessee guard Scotty Hopson, who was sitting on the stool next to Williams. “And ball handling.”
“They should make it my play instead of his,” Williams said.
Williams made perhaps the biggest shot of Tennessee’s season on Thursday night, albeit one that came much closer to the basket.
And Williams nearly wasn’t on the floor to shoot it.
After the Razorbacks wiped out a 16-point deficit in five minutes and tied the score at 68 with 2:08 to go, Williams was hit in the eye by Hogs forward Delvon Johnson. Williams lay on the floor for several minutes and had to be helped to UT’s bench.
“I was punched in the eye,” Williams said. “It was flagrant. I think I got punched in the eye twice. I’m not going to feel it until the morning, though. I just had to suck it up.”
With the score tied at 68, the Razorbacks had a chance to take the lead, but Johnson walked while trying to spin around UT freshman Tobias Harris with 1:10 to play.
Williams came back into the game. When Harris drove to the basket with less than a minute to go, Johnson left Williams to defend him. Harris made a nice interior pass to Williams, who scored the winning layup with 55 seconds to go.
“I saw his man move onto me, and I looked for him,” said Harris, who finished with 20 points. “That’s what we do.”
Harris made two foul shots with 33.8 seconds left to seal the victory.
For several minutes on Thursday night, it seemed the Volunteers were going to squander away another big lead, just like they’ve done too many times this season.
“They were making tough shots and you couldn’t get any rebounds,” Williams said. “There wasn’t anything you could do about it.”
The Vols didn’t help themselves, though, by missing 11 shots and committing two turnovers during their nearly five-minute drought.
“I was just thinking, ‘Dang, we’re getting to that time of the game again, when we let someone make a run to get back into the game,’” Harris said.
Instead, UT found a way to survive and advanced to play SEC regular-season champion Florida in Friday’s quarterfinals.
The Volunteers lost two very close games against the Gators during the regular season, 81-75 in overtime in Knoxville, Tenn., on Jan. 11 and 61-60 in Gainesville, Fla., on Feb. 12.
“They were both close games,” Williams said. “They know we can play with them, and we know they can play with us. It’s just going to come down to who wants it more.”
With Arkansas’ season probably coming to an end, the Razorbacks have to decide if they want coach John Pelphrey anymore. The Hogs finished 18-13 and will likely miss the NCAA tournament for the third season in a row.
Pelphrey, who has a 69-59 record in four seasons with the Hogs, wouldn’t comment on his future at the school after the game.
“We’ll talk about our team tonight and we’ll talk about the SEC tournament,” Pelphrey said. “There will be a time for that reflection here at some point in time. I look forward to it.”
As poorly as Pelphrey’s night ended, his day didn’t start much better. On Thursday morning, CBSSportsline.com posted a photo of him posing with Sylvan Hills (Ark.) High prospect Archie Goodwin and teammate Trey Smith at a high school tournament last December. Goodwin and Smith are high school juniors, so Pelphrey’s off-campus contact with them would be a violation of NCAA rules.
“We’re certainly very sensitive to those things and take all that stuff very, very seriously,” Pelphrey said. “It will be looked into with regards to our compliance people, and if there’s something there, we’ll certainly cooperate and be forthcoming.”
Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl knows about NCAA investigations all too well. He was suspended from coaching in his team’s first eight SEC games by league commissioner Michael Slive, after Pearl lied to NCAA investigators about having illegal contact with recruits. Pearl is still awaiting to learn whether or not he’ll be penalized any more by the NCAA.
“We’ll find out,” Pearl said. “We have been very accountable and responsible for what’s happened, and we’re dealing with it. We’re trying to lead through it. The penalties that we have imposed on [ourselves] are very severe and we’re managing. We’re trying to overcome, but it’s part of the process. Just the fact that it has to get discussed some is a good deterrent.”