NASHVILLE — Tennessee basketball was done. Or so it seemed.
But Grant Williams wasn’t.
The nation’s newly minted No. 1 team was blitzed throughout the second half Wednesday by a Vanderbilt team that rained 3-pointers and key plays. The Vols trailed for the final 10 minutes of regulation.
But where there’s a Williams, there’s a way. The junior forward scored 43, piecing together a dominant second half and overtime period. He swung the game with a four-point possession in a two-second span late in regulation.
Then he dominated the overtime period, punctuating it with a phenomenal and-one play that left him flexing with one arm and holding the ball with the other.
And somehow the Vols edged Vanderbilt 88-83 and avoided the fate of the 2008 UT team that reached No. 1 before losing to the Commodores in its next game.
Williams finished with the first 40-point outing for a Vol since Allan Houston against LSU in 1990. He was flawless from the free-throw line, making all 23 attempts. He was equally incredible from the field a year after scoring 37 at Vanderbilt last season.
And he’s the reason Tennessee (17-1, 6-0 SEC) won Wednesday on a night where Admiral Schofield struggled shooting for the second straight game and only Jordan Bone also reached double figures with 14.
Williams scored four straight late in regulation — two on a pair of flagrant free throws and a layup on the following inbound play. Then Schofield, who was two of nine from the field, had a floater roll around the side of the rim and down to tie the game 76-76.
Chaos broke out in the final minute. Both teams blocked a shot at the rim. Williams’ game-winning 3-point attempt was blocked and never got near the hoop.
Williams scored UT’s first 10 points in overtime, owning the period to send Tennessee to its 13th straight win. His final two free throws set the Tennessee record for most free throws in a game.
But he was excellent long before the end. He kept Tennessee in the game as Vanderbilt (9-9, 0-6) could not miss from 3-point range, led by the sharpshooting of freshman Aaron Nesmith and sophomore Saben Lee. The duo combined for 45 points and seven 3-pointers.
Lee put UT down by five late before Jordan Bowden shot life into the Vols with a thundering alley-oop dunk off an inbound play. Williams cut the lead to two with a driving and-one. But again it was Lee, who split a double-team and almost fell down as he passed to Brown for a dunk and a 74-70 lead then made two free throws for a six-point lead.
Williams made a pair of flagrant free throws, then a layup to pull UT within 76-74. Bowden missed a contested layup in transition, then Vanderbilt turned over the ball and Schofield tied the game with 38.3 seconds to play.
The teams traded blocks and Vanderbilt got another, sending the evening to overtime.
Williams kept taking over from there, setting a career high on the floor he set a career high a year earlier.
Tennessee hosts West Virginia on Saturday (4 p.m. ET, ESPN2) as part of the SEC/Big 12 Challenge.
Follow the Knoxville News Sentinel’s Mike Wilson on Twitter @ByMikeWilson.