Late free throws seal win for Tennessee

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Trae Golden thinks back to taking free-throw shots in the gym as a kid whenever he's under pressure at the foul line.

"My dad always made me shoot 10 free throws before I left the gym," the freshman said. "I always had trouble when I'd reach eight or nine."

This time Golden, who was making his first collegiate start in place of an injured Melvin Goins, got his free throw misses out of the way early and sank a pair with 7.2 seconds left that sealed Tennessee's 60-56 win over Missouri State in the second round of the NIT Season Tip-Off on Wednesday night.

Tennessee (No. 23 ESPN/USA Today, No. 24 AP) had a seven-point lead with 27.9 seconds left off a pair of foul shots by Cameron Tatum, but Jermaine Mallett hit a 3-pointer to make it 57-53 with 19.7 seconds left.

Missouri State's Adam Leonard answered another pair of Tatum free throws with a 3-point shot to cut the Vols' lead to 58-56 with 8.3 seconds left. Corey Copeland fouled Golden hard, sending him to the floor, but the Bears wouldn't score again after his free throws.

"I think it went well," Golden said. "It's like I keep saying, this is a learning curve. I keep learning every day and improving, and I'm just glad we got the win."

Golden got the start at point guard after Goins suffered a bruise on the side of his chest in Tuesday night's first round game against Belmont, limiting his mobility.

Tobias Harris led the Vols with 15 points, and Tatum and Scotty Hopson both added 12.

Kyle Weems led Missouri State (2-1) with 18, Mallett had 12 and Will Creekmore added 11.

Tennessee advances to face Virginia Commonwealth in the semifinals at Madison Square Garden on Nov. 24. The Vols reached the semifinals of the 2006 Season Tip-Off Tournament, where they lost to Butler 55-44 in the semifinals and then North Carolina 101-87 in a consolation game.

The Vols led by as many as 11 points in the first half and held a 31-27 lead at halftime, but Missouri State opened the second half with a 9-0 run. Weems ducked around a defender and hit an open jumper to grab a 36-33 lead with 15:19 left.

"We weren't intimated by these guys," Creekmore said. "They're very athletic and they're going to do big things this year."

The margin remained tight as both teams used chippy defense around the basket to prevent any easy shots. Tennessee hit 40.4 percent of its shots after halftime, and Missouri State shot 40.4 percent in the second half.

"The constant has got to be on the defensive end," Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl said. "When you guard the rebound, you give yourselves a chance. I thought we guarded well. We were physical with our defense."

The Vols struggled from the foul line for most of the night and had hit only nine of 18 attempts when the Bears began fouling them in the final minute to stretch the clock. They made nine of their final 10 attempts.

Missouri State's usually reliable outside shooting was inconsistent. The Bears made only six of their 26 3-point shots.

Instead they fought for points in the paint while turning up the pressure on Tennessee. Missouri State grabbed 18 offensive boards and converted them into 14 second-chance points.

"This is one of those games we had to grind it out and really be physical," Bears coach Cuonzo Martin said. "I tell them I can care less if your shots don't fall, for us it's battling tough defensively. As long as we defend, I'm fine with it."