"I guess they were trying to show us the basket," said Brandon Wharton, who pulled the Volunteers out of their shooting woes with 16 second-half points in a 62-52 first-round victory over Delaware.
"It was probably such a horrible game to watch the way both teams shot, I guess they needed to put a spotlight on the goal."
Fourth-seeded Tennessee (21-8) overcame a miserable offensive start to win its first NCAA Tournament game in 16 years. The Vols also snapped Delaware's 13-game winning streak.
The game was an offensive nightmare for both clubs. Neither team shot better than 33 percent and they combined for 37 turnovers.
"Survive and advance, that's what we call it," said Tennessee coach Jerry Green. "It's kind of like a war and you have battles. Sometimes you come out of it a little tattered and torn, but we're surviving."
Tennessee missed 17 of its first 20 shots but managed to win its first NCAA Tournament game since 1983 because 13th-seeded Delaware shot a season-low 29.8 percent.
"Our offense sometimes comes, and sometimes it goes. We couldn't even make a layup," said Green. "But the effort of continuing to play defense and being determined certainly helped that."
Isiah Victor added 14 points and 14 rebounds for Tennessee and Mike Pegues scored 21 for the Blue Hens, who fell to 0-4 all-time in the tourney.
"We certainly had our chances," said Delaware coach Mike Brey. "I don't think we were into moral victories this year. We thouht we had a chance, but Tennessee did what they had to do at the right time to win the basketball game."
The Blue Hends (25-6) entered the postseason with 10 consecutive double-digit victories and the nation's fifth-longest winning streak, but couldn't handle Tennessee's athletic front line as the game wore on.
The Volunteers led by three at halftime but went up by nine in the early stages of the second half before the Blue Hens closed to 36-35 on a hook shot by Pegues.
However, Vincent Yarbrough scored on a follow shot and a pair of free throws, and Wharton hit a 3-pointer as the Vols went up by nine. Delaware would get no closer than 45-39 with 8:18 left.
Tennessee went 7-for-8 from the foul line in the final 51 seconds.
"I came out in the first half and couldn't buy a bucket, so I got a little more aggressive in the second half and got a little closer to the hole," Wharton said of his 0-for-7 performance in the first half.
Tennessee was coming off a season-low 29.9 percent shooting game in a loss to Mississippi State in the SEC Tournament quarterfinals. The Vols couldn't find their early offensive rhythm again in this one, turning the ball over nine times in the first 12 minutes to fall behind by six.
But the Vols began to wear the Blue Hens down inside, with Victor making a few shots and controlling the boards. On defense, Tennessee allowed Delaware only one basket over the final 7 minutes of the half to trail 25-22.
"The counterpunch (to not scoring) is the defense," Green said. "I'm sure we would like a prettier game, but we're one of 32 teams left, and we didn't play good. To me, it makes everything a little more optimistic instead of saying it was just an ugly basketball game."
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