for this game

Smith, missed free throws help Tennessee edge Belmont

Dec 21, 2008 - 12:09 AM KNOXVILLE, Tennessee (Ticker) -- Bruce Pearl knew what his team was up against Belmont. He knew better than to listen to the talking heads.

Tyler Smith scored 23 points and Alex Renfroe's missed free throws helped No. 19 Tennessee escape with a 79-77 win over cross-state rival Belmont on Saturday.

Bobby Maze scored 13 points - hitting a key 3-pointer late - for the Volunteers (8-2), who extended their home winning streak to 36 games.

It wasn't easy against an experienced Bruins team that nearly upset Duke in the first round of the NCAA Tournament last season.

"I try not to listen to talk radio very often because it is not good for your health. But once in a while I listen, just for the fun of it," Tennessee coach Pearl said.

"Today I am listening to some guys who said this game was going to be a blowout. Do they realize this is the team that had Duke beat last year in the NCAA Tournament? They beat Alabama and Cincinnati. Belmont is a great offensive team, and we held them to 41 percent shooting today because of great efforts by our players."

Tennessee got an assist from Renfroe, who scored a career-high 30 points for Belmont, but missed key free throws down the stretch.

"I am disappointed for Alex Renfroe," Belmont coach Ricky Byrd said.

"He has worked on his free-throw shooting so much, and has made a whole bunch these last two games - he is going to be disappointed in the last part. But he did play a phenomenal game. He is such a great basketball player."

Belmont (4-4) trailed, 78-76, after Maze missed a pair of free throws with 35 seconds left.

On the ensuing possession, Renfroe drove in and was fouled with 7.9 seconds left. A 63-percent free-throw shooter, Renfroe had hit 11 of his first 13 attempts, but missed the most important ones.

He back-rimmed the first attempt and made the second to slice the lead to 78-77.

Maze opened the door by hitting just 1-of-2 free throws at the other end, giving Renfroe a chance to redeem himself after getting fouled on a drive with five seconds left.

However, it was deja vu all over again. His first attempt was short and he was forced to miss the second. Belmont got the rebound off a mad scramble, but Andy Wicke's desperation jumper hit the side of the backboard and the Volunteers escaped with the victory.

Renfroe and Belmont made Tennessee sweat it out, though, and Pearl knew it wouldn't be easy.

"It was a scary game that a lot of people do try to stay away from," Pearl said. "Alex Renfroe plays that way against the best opponents Belmont faces."

The Bruins pulled to within 75-74 with 2:14 left thanks to a pair of free throws from Shane Dansby, but Maze responded with a clutch 3-pointer with 1:48 to play. Renfroe's layup cut the lead to two, but he sealed his team's fate with his performance at the line.

The senior-laden Bruins, who lost to Duke on last-second shot last season, proved to be almost more than the young Volunteers could handle early on.

Belmont used a 10-0 run to take a 50-44 lead with 16:01 to play. Renfroe scored five points during the spurt. The Volunteers battled back and neither team led by more than five the rest of the way.

Dansby had 12 points for the Bruins, who shot 41 percent (24-of-58) from the floor.

"You take steps in programs. The Duke game last year was a phenomenal experience for us," Byrd said.

"Tennessee is a really, really hard team to beat. We had more than a fair chance to do it. It is disappointing when you do not close it. I am not disappointed in the players, their efforts, or anything about them. I am just really disappointed in the outcome."