In the first half of Tennessee’s game against Iowa in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, Admiral Schofield couldn’t miss.
Tennessee’s senior wing made six of his nine shots overall and was 3-of-4 from three en route to 17 points and five rebounds in his first 14 minutes of play. The rest of UT’s team followed along with him, as the Vols put up 49 points and shot 51.4 percent from the floor and 42.9 percent from three. The Vols led by as much as 25 points in the first half and had a 49-28 advantage at halftime.
But the second half was a completely different story.
Iowa stormed back and played with much greater intensity on defense. The Hawkeyes limited Tennessee to just 22 points in the second half, and the Vols only made seven field goals as a team on 21 attempts.
For Schofield, his second half was one to forget.
Admiral was limited to just two points and missed all but one of his six field goal attempts. He also picked up two fouls to go along with the two he got whistled for in the first half, meaning he was one foul away from sitting the rest of the game.
Schofield attempted a somewhat ill-advised three-pointer with 41 seconds to go in regulation with Tennessee up by two. Jordan Bowden was called for a foul on the other end, and Joe Wieskamp made both of his free throws to tie the game up at 71-all with just over 20 seconds left.
Jordan Bone called a timeout once he crossed half court on the Vols’ ensuing possession, and Schofield went to the bench for Tennessee’s final possession of regulation.
He would remain there for the entire overtime period.
The Vols’ senior guard didn’t play a single minute in overtime, but Tennessee didn’t need his efforts on the court to win. Tennessee scored the first seven point in the extra period and ended up pulling out an 83-77 victory in overtime against the Hawkeyes to advance to the Sweet Sixteen.
So why did Schofield sit for the last five-plus minutes of the game? According to head coach Rick Barnes, it’s because Schofield didn’t think he was helping his team win.
“He didn’t want to play,” Barnes said to the media after the game. “He kept saying ‘leave Kyle (Alexander) in the game. He said ‘Kyle is important.’ With four fouls, he knew they were going to come right at him. He said ‘Coach I can’t guard the way I need to guard. I’m going to foul out. So you gotta leave Kyle in.’
“That was his decision.”
Kyle Alexander, the Vols’ other senior scholarship player on the roster, was responsible for guarding the rim and trying to limit what Iowa’s big men could do offensively. For the most part, he did just that, limiting Tyler Cook and Luka Garza to a combined 24 points on 8-of-20 shooting. Cook was just 4-of-12 from the field and Garza was 4-of-8. The duo also only pulled down six combined rebounds. Both players averaged a combined 11.5 rebounds a game heading into Sunday’s contest.
On offense, Alexander wasn’t a slouch, either. He finished with eight points and nine rebounds. His nine boards were the high water mark for both teams, and three of those were offensive rebounds.
Alexander’s efforts were crucial in Tennessee’s ability to out-rebound Iowa 41-34 and stay even on the offensive glass. Both teams pulled down 13 offensive rebounds in the game.
After the game, Schofield backed up Barnes’ statement about why he didn’t play in overtime.
“I’m (Alexander’s) roommate. He hasn’t been able to finish games for over two months now. I thought this was his moment, he needed to go in and finish,” Schofield said. “I just told coach to keep Kyle in. I was being adamant about it. I think they wanted me in because they know I hit shots and score, but I just thought Kyle had a bigger impact than I did today in the second half.”
Schofield stated that at first, Barnes and UT’s coaching staff didn’t listen to his plea. Barnes put him back out on the floor despite him saying he couldn’t guard the way he wanted to with four fouls.
They quickly realized that was a mistake, though.
“He threw me in, then they realized they gotta get Kyle in and took me out,” Schofield explained. “I was just encouraging and just trying to be a leader.”
The senior guard says this wasn’t the first time he’s done that this season. He claims he’s taken himself out of games in favor of someone else “plenty of times” this season, though he couldn’t point to a specific occasion other than Sunday when pressed.
Schofield’s plan worked, and Alexander’s defensive presence along with timely shots from Lamonte Turner, Jordan Bone, and Grant Williams helped the Vols prevail even after they let their massive lead crumble.
He wasn’t on the floor for the final five minutes, but Schofield doesn’t care about that. He just wants to win and advance.
“I’m not a selfish person. I just want to win,” Schofield said. “At the end of the day, I thought Kyle gave us a better advantage of winning because of his size and his impact on the glass today.”
This is one of the greatest players to come through UT in a long, long time. Enjoy and appreciate him, hopefully for a few more games. GO ADMIRAL AND BIG ORANGE!