NASHVILLE — Crazy things happen in college basketball when the calendar hits March, and entire seasons can come down to one game, one possession or one shot.
The Tennessee Volunteers got a full dose of March's madness Thursday afternoon.
Vanderbilt's Wade Baldwin had a tying layup at the buzzer following a length-of-the-court drive, but after an official review it was waved off for being released too late. That preserved Tennessee's 67-65 upset of its in-state rival in the Southeastern Conference men's tournament at Bridgestone Arena.
"I always say it's kind of good to be the underdog," said Armani Moore, whose Tennessee career will continue for at least one more game in today's quarterfinal against LSU.
"If you come in and you prove something, then that just shows a lot of people you've got pride for what you do. For this team right now, we're just showing a lot of people that we're capable.
"It kind of hurt us throughout the season that we didn't come out and do some of the things we knew we could have done, but if we're doing it right now, this is the most important time to be doing it."
After two wins in less than 24 hours, the 12th-seeded Vols (15-18) are still alive.
"It was a great win for our guys," said first-year coach Rick Barnes.
Entering this tournament Tennessee had lost four straight games by an average of 17.5 points. The Vols had won once outside of Thompson-Boling Arena all season. The two regular-season meetings with Vanderbilt produced two losses by a combined 31 points.
Yet a team without its best player found a way to keep its season alive.
"We're just playing for him right now," Robert Hubbs III said of Kevin Punter Jr., who's at home in New York City after foot surgery Tuesday.
In the locker room after the game, Moore called Punter, and the team had a brief video chat with their absent teammate, whose jersey hangs in the locker room.
"He just broke out into tears," Moore said. "It (stinks) for him to be home and can't be here witnessing this with us, but he's here in spirit. We just know that we've got to keep on taking care of business."
Only nine days ago and less than two miles from the downtown arena, Vanderbilt (19-13) beat Tennessee by 17 points, so it was surprising when the Vols led by 15 points in the first half and took a 12-point lead into halftime.
Ten Vanderbilt turnovers turned into 13 Tennessee points, and the Commodores made just one of their 13 3-point tries in the first 20 minutes. Tennessee was hanging on for dear life for nearly the entire second half, though, as Vanderbilt shot nearly 60 percent and hit eight of 12 shots from 3-point range.
The rivals traded punches after Vanderbilt trimmed its deficit to one point with nearly nine minutes left.
Joe Toye's trey gave Vanderbilt a 57-56 lead with 4:19 to go, but Tennessee made big play after big play down the stretch.
Hubbs and Detrick Mostella hit shots at the shot-clock buzzer. Moore drained a 3 for a 63-59 lead with 1:22 left. The Vols grabbed two key rebounds in the final minute.
"Toughness made the difference," said Vols freshman Admiral Schofield.
Vanderbilt's Luke Kornet and Matthew Fisher-Davis hit 3s to set up a wild ending.
Mostella, who led Tennessee with 18 points after scoring 17 against Auburn on Wednesday night, missed the front end of a one-and-one free-throw opportunity with six seconds left, but he chased down his own rebound, then missed another front-end free throw with 4.5 seconds left.
Kornet grabbed it and dished to Baldwin, who bolted up the floor.
"When he made that layup, it took a lot out of me," Mostella admitted. "I felt like we played our heart out, and for something like this to go down like this, it just took a lot out of me. If it would have counted, it would have been heartbreaking."
Initially the basket counted.
"I was thinking it was overtime," Tennessee forward Derek Reese said. "I was right there on the play. I thought it really went it in time."
Assistant coach Rob Lanier told Barnes the basket wouldn't count.
As the officials were gathered around at the scorers table reviewing the shot, some Tennessee fans with a view of the monitor began signaling that it would not count.
The officials then waved it off.
"I've never been that excited in my life," Schofield said.
"It seemed like an eternity," he added.
Only seven Vols played, and six of them played at least 29 minutes.
"There's things a lot tougher in life to have to get up to do than come here tomorrow and play a 40-minute game," Barnes said.
Certainly the Vols won't want their run to end now.
"We've got nothing to lose," Hubbs said. "We're just going out there and giving it all we got. It's like there's no tomorrow. Just survive and advance."
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