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Hill's jumper lifts Arkansas to upset of Tennessee

Mar 16, 2008 - 2:56 AM ATLANTA (Ticker) -- March basketball is usually full of unlikely heroes, and Stephen Hill filled the bill on Saturday.

Hill hit a turnaround jumper from the right baseline with 5.3 seconds remaining as Arkansas stunned fourth-ranked Tennessee with a 92-91 victory in the Southeastern Conference tournament semifinals on Saturday.

A rare contributor on the offensive end, Hill collected his only points of the game on the play despite the fact that the Razorbacks (22-10) reached the 90-point plateau for the third time this season.

"I tell these guys all the time, you never know when your time is going to come," Arkansas first-time coach John Pelphrey said. "Steve does not have a lot of stuff run at him. When he got a chance to do it, he did it."

The contest was played at Georgia Tech's Alexander Memorial Coliseum after severe weather battered downtown Atlanta on Friday night, making the Georgia Dome no longer viable.

After JaJuan Smith scored off an inbounds play for the Volunteers to forge the 13th tie of the game at 91-91 with 23 seconds left, Razorbacks guard Gary Ervin appeared intent to answer after Tennessee called a 30-second timeout to set its defense.

Yet, the senior guard slipped attempting to make his way around his defender on the right wing. Without his dribble, Ervin looked for help and only found Hill set up near the right box.

Looking to get the ball back, Ervin passed the ball to the senior center and cut toward the basket. However, Hill had only one thought on his mind and immediately went into his move as he took the ball, sinking just his second attempt of the game.

"Obviously, I didn't expect to take that shot, or any shot, with time running out in the game," Hill said. "That's not really my go-to move, but it went in. I can't complain.

"It was nice to get at least one bucket."

Tennessee raced up the court for a last-second shot, but Chris Lofton, the SEC's all-time leader in 3-pointers, had an attempt from just inside the arc hit the rim.

Lofton, who hit a clutch 3-pointer with 11.4 seconds left in an 89-87 win over South Carolina on Friday, finished with 25 points.

"He's awesome," Pelphrey said of Lofton. "He's stopped a lot of people. We were just lucky it didn't come against us. It came out of his hands beautifully. I thought it was in."

With the shot, Hill continued another surprising postseason run for Arkansas, which advanced to the championship game for the second straight season. It will face sixth-seeded Georgia, which overcame having to play two games in one day by beating Mississippi State, 64-60, on Saturday night.

Last season, the Razorbacks were just 18-12 following the regular season before winning three straight games in the tourney to secure an at-large berth to the NCAA Tournament.

"Over the last 15 years in the RPI, in 1999 Duke had the highest RPI," Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl said pleading his team's case for a top seed. "Right now, Tennessee has the second-highest RPI. We're right there. If we're the highest in the RPI other than Duke in 1999, we got to be right there (for the one seed)."

Arkansas appears to be accomplishing the same feat again, while also spoiling Tennessee's chance for a top seed in the NCAAs in the process.

Charles Thomas scored 25 points and grabbed 10 rebounds for the Razorbacks, who shot 55 percent (32-of-58) from the field.

Five of Thomas' rebounds came on the offensive end as Arkansas finished with a 13-6 advantage in offensive boards and 14-6 total in second-chance points.

"I thought he was awesome tonight," Pelphrey said of Thomas. "He was big and strong and physical at the basket. Boy, what a special night he had."

Lofton had five 3-pointers and Tyler Smith scored 24 points and pulled down six rebounds for the Volunteers (29-4), who were denied their first trip to the SEC title game since 1979.

Tennessee was looking to complete the first sweep of titles in the school history after it claimed its first regular-season crown since 1967 by going 14-2 in league play.

"Of course we're disappointed," Lofton said. "We had our hearts set on a championship and making history."

Offense ruled the first half, as both teams combined to shoot 56 percent (33-of-59) and score 92 points.

The Vols took a 42-35 lead with 4:24 remaining after JaJuan Smith completed a span where he scored six straight points on a 3-pointer and three free throws.

Yet, Tennessee could not shake Arkansas, which closed the first half on a 12-3 run to grab a 47-45 edge at intermission. Thomas had five points during the burst, including a 3-pointer.

The Vols scored the first six points of the second half and took a 73-64 lead with 8:59 to play after Tyler Smith's 3-pointer capped a 9-0 run.

The Razorbacks came back, converting 9-of-10 free throws on a 13-3 burst to pull ahead at 77-76 on a jumper by Sonny Weems with 6:05 to go.

The contest went back and forth thereafter, and the lead changed hands 17 times in the contest.