ST. LOUIS - One Evan Turner is pretty good. Five Tennessee Volunteers are even better.
Brian Williams scored the go-ahead basket on a tip-in with 32 seconds left, Bobby Maze converted a pair of late free throws and J.P. Prince blocked a desperation three-pointer at the buzzer last night, leading Tennessee past Ohio State, 76-73, and into the NCAA Tournament's round of eight for the first time.
"I was tired," Prince said. "I just said I'll save it all for defense. That's all I did. I know those last 2 minutes I was going to make them work. I knew nobody wanted it more than I did."
In tomorrow's regional final, the Vols will play Michigan State, a 59-52 winner over Northern Iowa, which saw its Cinderella run come to an end in the second game here in the Gateway City last night.
Wayne Chism finished with 22 points - all but four in the second half - and 11 rebounds for the sixth-seeded Volunteers (28-8), who pulled out a back-and-forth tussle in the Midwest Regional semifinals.
As the final buzzer sounded, Tennessee players let out screams of joy and sprinted onto the court.
Few expected this from the Vols considering where they were on Jan. 1. Tyler Smith, the team's leading scorer last season, was dismissed from the team and Williams, Cameron Tatum and Melvin Goins were suspended after a gun and marijuana were found in a car during a traffic stop.
But 9 days later, Tennessee stunned then-No. 1 Kansas, and the Volunteers emerged as an even stronger team. Now, they're one win from the Final Four.
"It sounds real good, and we're livin' it up right now," Chism said.
For the Buckeyes, it's an opportunity lost. No one appeared to benefit more than Ohio State (29-8) when No. 1 overall seed Kansas was upset by Northern Iowa in the second round. Add in third-seeded Georgetown's first-round loss to Ohio University and fourth-seeded Maryland's loss last weekend to Michigan State, and Ohio State had what looked like a clear path to its second Final Four in 4 years.
To get there, though, the Buckeyes needed more than Turner, a leading contender for national player of the year honors.
"I told our team, 'It's our team vs. their six,' " Volunteers coach Bruce Pearl said. "We were a better 10 than their six."
Turner finished with 31 points, 21 in the second half, but the rest of the Buckeyes were only 3-for-16 from the field in the second half. Jon Diebler, so big for Ohio State in the first two rounds of the tournament, shot 1-for-7 from three-point range.
Durrell Summers scored 19 points and Korie Lucious hit a whirling turnaround jumper with 95 seconds left, helping fifth-seeded Michigan State survive a scare.
Playing without injured star Kalin Lucas, the Spartans (27-8) needed a half to get used to the Panthers' grinding style and held Northern Iowa to 10 free throws over the final 10:22 to send the heroes of the Heartland home empty-handed.
"I love March," MIchigan State coach Tom Izzo said. "The second half, we went inside more and it created a lot more opportunities for us. Let me tell you something - that's a good team."
Northern Iowa (30-5) knocked off one March monster but couldn't make it two straight, unable to contain the athletic Spartans for an entire game after stunning top-seeded Kansas in the second round.
Lucious hit his acrobatic shot, then Michigan State held and Chris Allen scored on a putback with 31 seconds left to put the Spartans up, 57-51, and into tomorrow's regional final against Tennessee.
Adam Koch had 13 points and Kwadzo Ahelegbe 12 for the Panthers, but Ali Farokhmanesh, the early-round hero, was just 1-for-6 from three-point range.
Farokhmanesh ran off the Runnin' Rebels with a three-pointer with 4.9 seconds left in the opening round, then topped it with a no-no-no-great-shot! three to take out the Jayhawks. The son of an Iranian Olympic volleyball player, Farokhmanesh has become a folk hero back in Cedar Falls, a Stephen Curry-like sensation to the rest of the country.
Michigan State, last year's national runner-up, turned the game on defense in the second half, escaping with a difficult win as Lucas watched from the bench in a walking boot.