This Week in UT Sports History – March 11th-17th

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    Photo credit: Anne Newman/RTI

    This Week in UT Sports History is a new weekly column written by new RTI contributor Lexie Little

    “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” Auburn (22-9, 11-7 SEC) dashed dreams for Vol faithful as the 2018-19 Vols (27-4, 15-3 SEC) barely missed the repeat title of SEC Regular Season Champions, falling to the Tigers 84-80 to finish one of the best regular seasons in program history. The whole affair remained shrouded in historic moments, as Tennessee faced former head coach Bruce Pearl (2005-2011), Grant Williams earned a place on the Men’s National Ballot for the John R. Wooden Award, and Vol seniors ended their regular-season careers.

    Now, explore more historic moments in “This Week in UT Sports History.”

    This Week in the National Invitation Tournament (NIT)

    Critics of the “consolation” tournament, beware. The Tennessee Volunteers have found their share of NIT glory and defeat in the past, earning a record of 12-9 in the tournament up to 2003. The saga began March 17, 1945 when the Vols (18-5, 8-2 SEC) lost to Rhode Island 51-44 in the traditional host city, New York City. The next trip to the NIT in 1969 proved more fruitful, with wins over Rutgers and Ohio on March 14th and 17th before finishing in third place overall with a 64-52 win against Army.

    The 1984 Vols (21-14, 9-9 SEC) took down St. Peter’s by a final of 54-50 in Knoxville, following that win with another over system sister UTC by two points, 68-66, five days later. Tennessee found itself in a similar situation the following year, entering the NIT with a 22-15 overall record. The Volunteers started off hot in the 1985 NIT, beating Tennessee Tech in Cookeville, Tennessee, on March 14th with a 65-62 win. The Vols went on to finish in third place in 1985, losing to a dominant Louisville 100-84.

    Other appearances include a two-point win against Memphis State on March 14, 1990 and a loss to College of Charleston, 55-49, in Knoxville on March 13, 1996.

    The Metropolitan Basketball Writers Association founded the NIT in 1938, one year before the NCAA Tournament. The Metropolitan Intercollegiate Basketball Association (then Committee) took over in 1940 before the NCAA acquired the rights in 2005. The MIBA disbanded thereafter.

    March 14 – Happy birthday, Deon Grant

    1998 National Champion Deon Grant celebrates his 40th birthday this week. The defensive back from Augusta, Georgia, leapt for a crucial one-handed grab against Florida, intercepting Doug Johnson in the legendary overtime thriller on the road to the BCS National Championship.

    A Vol from 1997-1999, Grant earned first team All-American honors in 1999 before the Carolina Panthers drafted him in the second round of the 2000 NFL Draft following his junior year. Grant became a champion in the NFL as well, going to the 2012 Super Bowl on the New York Giants squad that beat the then-undefeated New England Patriots 21-17. Grant also played for Jacksonville and Seattle during his 12-year professional career.

    March 14 and 15, 2003

    In 2003, three-year football starting cornerback Jabari Greer took the crown in the 60m hurdles at the NCAA Indoor Track & Field Championships, claiming the event title on March 14th. The sophomore finished with a time of 7.55 seconds, just ahead of Auburn’s Shamar Sands at 7.59. As a member of the Track & Field team, Greer broke the 110m hurdles school record during his time at Tennessee before entering the NFL as an undrafted free agent in 2004.

    Greer started for the New Orleans Saints in 2009, returning an interception for a touchdown against the Atlanta Falcons to bolster his place on the team. He remained on the squad until 2014, earning a Super Bowl ring in 2010 when the Saints defeated the Indianapolis Colts 31-17.

    The Vols claimed the track & field national title in 2002 on March 8 and 9. Before Justin Gatlin cemented himself in international history by winning gold in the 100m dash at the 2004 Olympics and defeating renowned sprinter Usain Bolt at the 2017 World Championships, he helped the 2002 Tennessee Track & Field team to the school’s first NCAA Indoor Championship title.

    Gatlin recorded a time of 20.63 seconds in the 200m dash, pushing him to the top of the podium at the Randal Tyson Track Center in Arkansas in front of a crowd of 5,567 fans. Gatlin led the team with 22 overall points in the 62.5 point win that scorched Southeastern Conference foes Alabama (47 points), LSU (44 points), and Arkansas (39 points).

    “On a blustery day when the winds howled through northwest Arkansas, the Volunteer nation found jubilation as opposed to heartache for the first time in program history,” athletics representatives said in a 2003 recap. “The newly-crowned Volunteers bounced the joyous strains of ‘Rocky Top’ off the rafters adorned with rows of championship banners at the Randal Tyson Center to conclude the meet.”

    The 2003 Vols did not fare so well, coming up short despite Greer’s efforts and finishing in a tie for fifth place with Villanova.

    Lexie Little is a journalist from Kingsport, Tennessee, who holds a Bachelor of Communication degree from the University of Tennessee with majors in both Journalism & Electronic Media and French & Francophone Studies. She's a contributor to RTI and writes the weekly column "The Week in UT Sports History." Lexie formerly worked as a feature writer for VIPSEEN Magazine and continues to freelance for various publications as she earns her master's degree from the University of Georgia Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication.