PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas (AP)Tennessee has twice played without its leading scorer at the Battle 4 Atlantis. It hasn’t stopped the 22nd-ranked Volunteers from reaching the championship game.
Julian Phillips scored a season-high 25 points to help Tennessee hold off Southern California 73-66 in overtime in Thursday’s semifinals, setting up a matchup with third-ranked and reigning national champion Kansas for the title.
Phillips, a first-year forward, made 7 of 13 shots and 10 of 12 free throws to go with eight rebounds for the Volunteers (4-1), with four of those free throws coming in the OT. It was part of a strong and aggressive performance, one with Wilson being active at both ends.
The Volunteers also got key contributions from Santiago Vescovi, Zakai Zeigler and Olivier Nkamhoua to grind through this one.
”I think this tournament’s been great for us,” coach Rick Barnes said. ”Still haven’t got our feet under us totally, but playing against a team like we did yesterday and coming back today against a zone team … I knew it wouldn’t be easy, and it wasn’t.”
Tennessee won despite again being without leading scorer Josiah-Jordan James (13.7 points per game) due to soreness in his left knee. He had an offseason procedure on that same joint, and Barnes has said he’s day-to-day.
Boogie Ellis scored 21 points in his second big output in as many days to lead the Trojans (4-2), but USC committed 20 turnovers – six in the overtime – that the Volunteers converted into 25 points.
”Our players played hard,” USC coach Andy Enfield said. ”They played well for most of the game, a lot of the stretches. But some of the turnovers are us getting sped up and some are bad decision making. But it’s tough to continuously turn the ball over that many times.”
Tennessee: The Volunteers pulled away in the second half to beat Butler in Wednesday night’s final first-round game. This time, Tennessee won despite shooting just 3 for 18 from 3-point range, with Phillips and Nkamhoua (12 points) leading the offense.
”We didn’t want to settle for 3s early,” Barnes said of playing against a zone.
USC: The Trojans beat BYU in Wednesday’s first round behind a big performance from Ellis, who scored 21 of his 27 points after the break. But No. 2 scorer Drew Peterson (15.8) had a mistake-filled performance with more turnovers (seven) than rebounds (six) or made baskets (four) and finished with nine points. Still, USC had two chances to win it late in regulation.
”We competed today, we had a chance to win,” Enfield said. ”Tennessee’s a top-25 team and we were right there, had our chances. We’re developing and getting better.”
Tennessee also had an advantage by getting to the foul line.
The Volunteers were whistled for 10 personal fouls and got to the foul line for 26 shots, making 22. The Trojans were charged with 23 fouls and got to the line just eight times, making seven.
”It is frustrating when there’s such big discrepancy in the fouls,” Enfield said. ”I guess they played a really good game without fouling.”
Vescovi finished with seven points on 3-for-13 shooting, but he overcame that rough shooting day to hit the go-ahead 3-pointer with 1:45 left in the extra period.
Zeigler went 4 for 4 at the line in the final 23.7 seconds left of overtime to seal the win.
Tennessee: The Vols advanced to Friday’s championship game to face No. 3 Kansas, which edged Wisconsin in overtime during Thursday’s semifinals.
USC: The Trojans will face the Badgers in Friday’s third-place game.
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