KNOXVILLE - With so many big athletes and so few accurate shooters, the Memphis-Tennesee men's basketball series hasn't been pretty.

But it hasn't lacked consistency or excitement.

The Memphis Tigers used a dominant defense, solid free-throw shooting and road savvy Saturday in Thompson-Boling Arena to score payback on the Volunteers, who used a similar formula to steal a win at Memphis last season.

Josh Tabb's half-court heave fell short as time expired, and Memphis won 54-52. Ironically, the Tigers could thank Antonio Anderson's first-half buzzer-beater from nearly the same area for their late lead.

Tennessee (12-6) made more than enough mistakes and missed more than enough shots in the first 39-plus minutes to fall behind Memphis (16-3), which had sustained single-digit losses to ranked foes Xavier, Georgetown and Syracuse.

The Vols lost at home for the third time in four games after 37 Thompson-Boling wins in a row.

"I'm proud of my team and I'm proud of my program," UT coach Bruce Pearl said. "What a crowd. What an atmosphere. I apologize to our fans that we've lost and not defended our home court."

Effort wasn't to blame. Saturday was another defensively dominant battle between two rosters full of long athletes who begrudgingly respect the other.

Paint points were at a premium all afternoon. Any points were at a premium in many stretches.

One free throw by Tigers freshman point guard star Tyreke Evans accounted for all the scoring in the final 2:33.

"I told the guys that it was going to be a war," Memphis coach John Calipari said.

The Vols attempted seven more free throws than Memphis, and the Tigers were whistled for four more fouls, but Pearl was clearly miffed while making multiple references to two numbers.

"I'm upset that Tyler (Smith) missed 13 shots and took four free throws," Pearl said in reference to his star. "That's a statement. ... I will study every one of those shots really closely."

Pearl was also peeved at Wayne Chism's latest uphill battle with foul trouble. He kept his big man on the bench to start Saturday's second half, but that move didn't pay off like it did in Tuesday's win at Vanderbilt.

Chism entered at 18:15, and his third foul came 14 seconds later.

"At some point, people are going to realize that Wayne is a terrific player," Pearl said. "The whole foul-trouble thing is just really something. I would think that Wayne deserves some respect."

Memphis center Shawn Taggart had similar problems, fouling out with 2:34 left. Chism made the two subsequent free throws - giving him 11 consecutive points - to get UT within 53-52.

The Vols followed that with a series of defensive stops and missed offensive opportunities. Smith was denied twice near the rim in the final two minutes, and Evans rebounded the last one with 4.6 seconds left.

UT was two fouls away from putting Memphis to the free-throw line, though, so Evans didn't have to shoot until 1.9 seconds were left. He missed the second, and Chism corralled it before getting time out 94 feet from the basket with 1.1 seconds left.

"We had some OK looks, but we just couldn't hit them," Chism said. "This hurts pretty bad, but you've got to give Memphis credit. They came in here and did what we did in their house last year."

Smith's second miss in the last two minutes "stunned" teammate J.P. Prince.

"Tyler usually makes that shot," Prince said. "I thought it was going in. We ran that same play last year (at Memphis), and it just went down."

Calipari referenced Smith's "will to win" all week to the Tigers and the media, and Saturday didn't change his mind.

"Tyler Smith is an absolute warrior," Calipari said. "His will to win and competitive spirit (are) exactly what I love in a player, and I grabbed him after the game and told him I love players like him."

Memphis has only one out-of-league game left - Feb. 7 at Gonzaga - and the Tigers are expected to make their customary romp through Conference USA. The Vols are in a tougher spot, albeit in a weaker-than-usual Southeastern Conference.

They stay home this week for games against LSU and Florida on Wednesday and Saturday, and they might need a late-season winning streak to secure an NCAA tournament bid.

"It will require us to finish higher," Pearl said. "It will require us to finish near the top.

"How many (from the SEC) are going? Four or five? I don't know. We'll see."