By Steve Yanda
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 27, 2010; D01
ST. LOUIS -- Tennessee Coach Bruce Pearl had heard the question six times before over the past five months. Six times this season the Volunteers had claimed victory after trailing at halftime, and six times he was asked afterward: What'd you say to the guys in the locker room at the break?
Typically, Pearl said Friday night, he remains positive. He doesn't yell. He states adjustments that need to be made.
But when asked the question a seventh time -- in the moments following Tennessee's 76-73 win over Ohio State in the Midwest Region semifinals -- Pearl revealed he'd taken a different approach with the Volunteers behind by three at the break.
"I got after them really hard tonight," Pearl said. "Fifty-six percent shooting? Ohio State doesn't lose when they outshoot their opponent. So if we're going to defend like that, we might as well get ready to go home because it's done. I challenged their toughness. I said that I thought they were intimidated early in that game. And we were not the more physical team in the first half."
But Tennessee (28-8) was the more physical team in the second half, and consequently the sixth-seeded Volunteers advanced to the Elite Eight for the first time in program history. They will face Michigan State here on Sunday, with the winner advancing to the Final Four.
Ohio State, the No. 2 seed in the Midwest Region, shot 55.6 percent in the first half despite an uneven performance by standout guard Evan Turner. Though Turner surged after the intermission -- scoring 21 of his game-high 31 points -- Ohio State (29-8) shot just 32.3 percent after the break.
Tennessee, meantime, repeatedly fed the ball inside to senior forward Wayne Chism, and he responded by shredding Ohio State's 2-1-2 zone defense. Chism tallied 18 of his team-high 22 points in the second half and finished with 11 rebounds. Tennessee held a 50-22 advantage in points in the paint and a 41-29 edge on the boards.
"The difference in the second half was I started putting the ball higher off the glass," Chism said. "In the first half, I was putting it up soft and coming up short every time. I had to adjust the way I shot the ball in the second half, and I did a great job of finishing."
"You sure did," Pearl affirmed.
Despite their effectiveness down low, the Volunteers battled their own lack of discipline in the second half. Tennessee misfired badly on alley-oop attempts, air-balled three-point shots and made sloppy passes. There were travels and charges and shot clock violations. Tennessee recorded 10 of its 16 turnovers after the intermission.
Consecutive Chism baskets cut Ohio State's lead to one with just more than eight minutes remaining in the game. But after forcing a steal, Tennessee guard Scotty Hopson was called for a charge, temporarily halting the Volunteers' momentum.
But Tennessee played stingy enough defense after the intermission to negate its offensive miscues.
Turner tallied Ohio State's first 14 points of the second half, but he often was alone in his offensive endeavors.
Tennessee center Brian Williams tipped in what proved to be the game-winning basket with 32 seconds left to put the Volunteers ahead by one. Turner then drove the length of the court, but his contested layup attempt fell errant.
A pair of free throws by Tennessee guard Bobby Maze put the Volunteers up by three with 12.9 seconds remaining. Volunteers guard J.P. Prince ended the game when he blocked a last-second three-point attempt by Turner.
"Didn't really think about it, you know?" said Prince, when asked whether he was worried about a foul being called on the final play. "You've got to make the block. You've got to contest the shot. I mean, I knew he was going to flail. That's going to happen anytime at the end of the game. But I had a clean block. I just had to use my length, and I had to make the play."