Tennessee’s Ramar Smith against Derrick Rose and Memphis in 2008. Photo via Tennessee Athletics.
Thursday marks the 15-year anniversary of one of the most memorable and historic moments in the history of Tennessee athletics: the night that Tennessee basketball became the No. 1 team in the country for the first time in program history.
Achieving that ranking, though, was no easy task. The No. 2-ranked Vols, led by head coach Bruce Pearl, had to go to the Birthplace of Rock n’ Roll for an in-state showdown with John Calipari’s No. 1 undefeated Memphis squad.
On Thursday morning, to commemorate the 15th anniversary of that game, Rocky Top Insider’s Ryan Schumpert spoke with 11 players and coaches from that game and compiled the quotes into a must-read article, beautifully telling the story of the game from a Tennessee player perspective. Make sure to check that out below.
More from RTI: ‘No Ordinary Game’: An Oral History Of The Day No. 2 Tennessee Beat No. 1 Memphis
“I don’t know if we’re the best team in the country,” Pearl said to the team before the game. “I don’t know if we are. But I do know that we’re 40 minutes away from being the No. 1 team in the country.”
Behind a near-unconscious performance from JaJuan Smith in the first few minutes of the game, Tennessee knew they were ready for the slugfest that was to come over the next 38 minutes. And so did Memphis. The Tigers roared back behind lights-out shooting over the next 20 minutes. Still, though, Tennessee hung around in the game. The Vols only trailed by one entering halftime despite one of Memphis’s best shooting halves of the entire season.
That one-point halftime deficit was all Tennessee needed to continue the confidence that this game was theirs for the taking – despite being in front of such an unbelievably hostile crowd.
Tennessee and Memphis traded punches for the entirety of the second half, with the Vols taking the lead in the final few minutes of the game behind impressive play from Tyler Smith. Chris Lofton would end up hitting two free throws to give Tennessee the four-point lead with two seconds left, and that was all she wrote.
“I don’t think anybody in the world, Memphis people included, thought Chris was going to miss any of those free throws,” Duke Crews said to Rocky Top Insider. “Pop the champagne, light the cigars. It’s Chris Lofton.”
Tennessee won the game and was the new No. 1 team in the land for the first time in program history.
Tennessee Basketball: ‘No Ordinary Game’: An Oral History Of The Day No. 2 Tennessee Beat No. 1 Memphis
Check out various highlights and clips from the game below: