PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas – No. 22 Tennessee came out on top in a back-and-forth affair Thursday in the Battle 4 Atlantis semifinals, outlasting USC in overtime, 73-66.
Tennessee and USC played back and forth for the first three minutes of the overtime period, as Trojan guard Boogie Ellis’ baseline jumper knotted the score at 66 with 2:09 remaining in OT.
On the ensuing trip down the court, Santiago Vescovi drained a 3-pointer from the wing as the shot clock wound down to give the Vols a 69-66 lead.
From there, Tennessee forced three straight USC turnovers and Zakai Zeigler was 4-for-4 at the line to seal the win.
Freshman Julian Phillips paced the Vols offensively all game, finishing with a career-high and game-high 25 points on 7-for-13 shooting.He also pulled down eight rebounds and was 10-for-12 at the free-throw line.
Olivier Nkamhoua also scored in double figures for the Vols, registering a 12-point, six-rebound performance on 5-for-8 shooting.
With Tennessee trailing 62-60 with just over a minute to play in regulation, Phillips found Nkamhoua on the block for a contested layup that tied the game.
On the subsequent possession, the Vols forced a missed USC 3-pointer and Phillips gathered the rebound with 34 seconds remaining. Tennessee had a shot to win the game in the closing seconds, but Vescovi’s 3-point attempt was off the mark.
After Tennessee took a three-point lead into the halftime break, USC threatened to pull away out of the gates in the second half-outscoring the Vols 11-4 in the opening five minutes of the period to pull in front by four points at 45-41.
As he did many times over the course of the game, Phillips had an answer for the Vols-getting to the rim for an and-one layup that kicked off a 10-0 Tennessee run and put the Vols back in control.
After USC ended that Tennessee run with a jumper from Kijani Wright, the two teams played the remainder of regulation in an eight-point window-with neither team leading by more than four points.
Tennessee led for nearly the entirety of the first half and took a 37-34 lead into the halftime break.
The Vols extended their lead to as many as eight points with 1:13 to go in the opening period when Mashack stole a USC inbounds pass, took the ball the length of the floor and threw down an and-one slam to put Tennessee ahead, 37-29.
USC responded however, scoring the half’s final five points-including a buzzer-beating 3-pointer from Boogie Ellis to bring the Trojans within three points.
After a slow offensive start to Wednesday’s opening game in the Bahamas against Butler, Tennessee was much quicker out of the gates Thursday-shooting 42 percent from the field during the first half.
Phillips, who recorded a career-high-tying 11 points against Butler on Wednesday, achieved a career-high in scoring during the first half alone with 13 points on 4-for-7 shooting.
With the win, Tennessee advances to Friday’s Battle 4 Atlantis championship game against No. 3 Kansas, who defeated Wisconsin on Thursday in overtime, 69-68. Tip-off is set for approximately 7:30 p.m. ET on ESPN.