For two of Tennessee’s scholarship players, Thursday night marked the final time they played for the Vols.
Kyle Alexander and Admiral Schofield suited up for one last time in the orange and white, and they helped Tennessee claw their way back against Purdue after trailing by 18 points early in the second half to take a lead with 5:25 to go in regulation.
Eventually, the Vols would end up going to overtime, and the Boilermakers outlasted them, winning 99-94 in the Sweet Sixteen.
After the game, Admiral Schofield was asked about what Tennessee has meant to him and what his four years have meant building up to this moment.
“I think we built something special. I think the biggest thing that you have to appreciate is the culture that we built at Tennessee,” Schofield said after the game in video captured by WATE’s Jordan Crammer. “I’m just really appreciative. I’m just really sad I have to go out on this note. I think the biggest thing I can say is we left this program winning, us four seniors, we left this program winning. That’s the biggest thing. We really came from the bottom. To make it to the Sweet Sixteen is a dream come true. (We) came up short. But at the end of the day, I remember when we were losing 19, 16 games and nobody really believed in us. I remember when we could barely get 17,000 (fans) in the arena. This year, we averaged around 20,000.
“God’s been amazing this year, He’s been amazing all my four years here, and it’s just a blessing to be able to call myself a Tennessee Volunteer.”
When Schofield first came to Tennessee, Rick Barnes wasn’t even his head coach. When he first signed on to be a Vol, Donnie Tyndall was the Vols’ head coach. Schofield stuck around after meeting with Barnes after he was hired, and he played in 32 games and started 22 as a true freshman. As a sophomore, he took more of a bench role and only started two of the 28 games he played, but his numbers increased from his first year.
In those first two seasons, Tennessee went 15-19 and 16-16 respectively. Not only that, but fans weren’t turning out to see the team, either. Tennessee averaged just over 14,000 fans for each home game in Schofield’s first year, and there was only an average of 13,637 in his second year.
But then the Vols surprised everyone in his third season.
The Vols were picked to finish 13th out of 14 teams heading in to the 2017-18 season, but they didn’t let those preseason expectations define them. Instead, Tennessee won a share of the regular season SEC title with Auburn, made it to the SEC Tournament Finals, and earned a No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
This past season saw UT rise to even greater heights. The Vols began the season as the No. 6 team in the country, their highest ranking in the preseason AP Poll ever. Tennessee eventually ascended to No. 1 in the polls and stayed there for four-straight weeks. The Vols won a program record 19-straight games during the season, and they again got to the SEC Tournament Finals. Tennessee was rewarded with a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
During the last two years, Schofield became one of the unquestioned leaders of UT’s basketball team. He was a Second-Team All-SEC performer as a junior and earned first-team honors this year as a senior. He hit many clutch threes and had multiple highlight reel dunks as a Vol, and Tennessee fans will never forget what he was able to accomplish as a Vol.
Losing in overtime in the Sweet Sixteen is a disappointing ending to what had the potential to be the greatest season of Tennessee men’s basketball ever. But Schofield and Tennessee’s other seniors will be remembered for helping take a program that was in shambles when they first got here to one of the most surprising stories in college basketball.
Schofield finishes his Tennessee career with 1,570 points in 132 total games. His career scoring mark places him 16th all-time in school history, as he just surpassed Ron Slay’s career total of 1,569 in his last game as a Vol. His 132 games are the fifth-most of any Vol in school history.