If Tennessee learned anything this season, it might be that it needs to watch out for Texas A&M forward Antwan Space when the game is on the line.
Space buried a game-winning 3-pointer in Knoxville to knock off the Vols in January of this year, and he did it again in College Station on Saturday afternoon. His bucket with 2.4 seconds left in overtime capped off one of the wildest college basketball games of the season.
“Coach drew up the play for me,” said Space. “He had confidence in me, so I had confidence in myself. I just shot it. When it left my hands, I just felt it going in. It was a good shot.”
That shot didn’t ruin UT’s chances at making the NCAA tournament, but a razor-thin margin for error is now even smaller. The Vols must, in all likelihood, win out in the regular season and might need to make some noise in the SEC tournament in Atlanta as well.
This loss will string the Vols, but to their credit, getting it to OT was a minor miracle. Tennessee trailed by eight points with just 1:46 remaining in regulation. UT finished regulation on a 10-2 run, but it was the final seconds before overtime that will be remembered in this one.
After a missed free throw by A&M point guard Alex Caruso, the Vols had 15 seconds to get a bucket to tie or win. After a stagnant start to the possession, point guard Antonio Barton forced up a tough 3-pointer with approximately three seconds remaining.
It went in.
But it didn’t count. Coach Cuonzo Martin called a timeout just a fraction of a second before Barton released the ball, nullifying the shot and taking away what looked to be a win for the Vols.
“So we could get into a good set,” Martin said, explaining why he opted for the timeout. “We were scrambled offensively because [Texas A&M] switched some things. One thing I wanted to do was give our guys a good shot and a good look at the basket. Antonio made the 3-point shot [after the timeout was called], but I wanted to give our guys a good look.”
Martin quickly redeemed himself with a great play call on the ensuing inbounds play. Forward Jarnell Stokes, guarded by the significantly smaller Caruso, got position under the basket, took the pass and powered his way up to the rim for the game-tying bucket with under one second to go and was fouled in the process.
With the game tied at 59, Stokes missed what would’ve been a game-winning free throw as regulation expired.
“We got a good look out of Jarnell,” Martin said of the final possession of regulation. “It’s a play we run in practice. We go over our situations all the time. There’s different options out of that particular play. But for us needing two points, going inside to Jarnell with one-on-one isolation. I thought Josh [Richardson] did a tremendous job of putting that ball through there and I thought Jarnell did a great job at catching that ball.”
The teams remained gridlocked into overtime until A&M got the final possession. In eerily similar fashion to his shot in Knoxville, Space, who entered the game with only seven made 3-pointers on the season, knocked down the game-winner with five seconds remaining. UT’s last-gasp pass down the court was intercepted and the Aggies held on for the season sweep of the Vols.
The Vols return to the floor Wednesday night at Mississippi State at 8:00 p.m. ET.
Daniel Lewis covers Tennessee athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @DanielNooga