Tennessee 77, Virginia 74

Sunday, March 18th 2007, 2:26 pm
By: News On 6

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) _ Now the whole state of Tennessee can paint itself orange.

JaJuan Smith led a second-half comeback, Chris Lofton made one free throw after another in the final seconds and the Volunteers held off Virginia 77-74 Sunday in the second round of the NCAA tournament.

Fifth-seeded Tennessee (24-10) reached the round of 16 for the first time since 2000 under second-year coach Bruce Pearl, who painted himself orange before a Lady Vols' game last month to show his spirit.

Pearl did some of his best coaching on Sunday, bringing down a Virginia team that couldn't get one more shot out of its fabulous guard tandem at the end.

Point guard Sean Singletary missed a 3-pointer with 1 second left, then slumped and rested his forehead on the court in dismay as Virginia (21-11) watched its top two scorers come up empty at the end.

Tennessee will play No. 1 Ohio State in the South Regional on Thursday in San Antonio. The high-scoring Volunteers lost at Ohio State 68-66 in January.

Tennessee put its mark on the tournament in its opening game, matching the school and first-round scoring records by piling up 121 points against discouraged Long Beach State. The Volunteers advanced on Sunday by making the easiest shot of all.

Lofton, the Southeastern Conference's player of the year, hit all six of his free throws in the last 27.7 seconds, keeping Tennessee ahead. Lofton finished with 20 points, and the Volunteers went 22-of-32 overall from the free-throw line.

It was a numbing finish for Virginia, which got another big game from its guard tandem of J.R. Reynolds (26 points) and Singletary (19 points). It wasn't enough to get the Cavaliers into the round of 16 for the first time since 1995.

Instead, Tennessee got the better of one of the tournament's most colorful matchups.

The color? Orange, of course.

Reynolds donned bright orange shoes for the Cavaliers' first-round game against Albany, and immediately broke out of his shooting slump by making his first seven shots and scoring 28 points overall.

Not surprisingly, Reynolds' orange shoes were back _ his teammates stuck with their more conservative black-and-white footwear _ for the second-round game against a coach known for his orange chest. Pearl took off his shirt and painted his torso to support the Lady Vols at one of their January games.

From start to finish, the guards controlled it.

In the opening minute, Reynolds and Lofton turned it into a game of HORSE. Reynolds hit a 3 from the top of they key on Virginia's first possession, and Lofton responded with a longer 3 a minute later.

The challenge was on, and Reynolds was on his game.

Tennessee repeatedly switched defenders, but none could stop Reynolds, who made five of his first seven shots. He was at his best during an 18-3 spurt that gave Virginia a 36-25 lead, scoring 12 of the points on assorted shots.

Then, it was Tennessee's turn.

The Volunteers slowly cut into the lead, and Smith had a three-point play and a steal-and-layup during a 15-2 spurt early in the second half that put Tennessee ahead to stay 54-44. Smith finished with 16 points.

At that point, Singletary tried to bring Virginia back. He got a rebound while falling and, while on his chest, passed to Adrian Joseph for a lay-in that cut it to 61-59.

Smith ended the comeback there by hitting a 3-pointer, then taking a charge from Singletary. Lofton, an 80.5 percent free-throw shooter, then finished it off by going 6-for-6 from the line.