When No. 18 Tennessee took the court for the first time, fans at courtside yelled: "Welcome to Wally World."
When the final buzzer sounded and those same fans were storming the court to hoist Wally Szczerbiak on their shoulders, the Volunteers couldn't leave fast enough.
Szczerbiak scored 34 points -- half of his team's total -- and had a game-high 12 rebounds Thursday night as Miami of Ohio took another step toward a Top 25 ranking with a 68-60 victory.
Miami (2-0) blew a 12-point lead and lost starting point guard Rob Mestas to a sprained knee, but used Szczerbiak's cool down the stretch to pull off one of the RedHawks' biggest wins of the decade. His turnaround jumper put Miami ahead to stay and his three free throws preserved the lead in the closing minutes.
"I'll be glad to see Wally Szczerbiak graduate, I'll be honest with you," Tennessee coach Jerry Green said. "Wally Szczerbiak is a heck of a basketball player, as we all know."
Many of the 8,840 fans rushed the court when the buzzer sounded and lifted Szczerbiak on their shoulders. He raised both index fingers and twirled his right fist to chants of "Wally! Wally!"
"I got caught up in the stampede," Szczerbiak said. "I kind of lived it up for a while, I have to admit. It was great. I'll remember it for a long time."
Miami hasn't been ranked in the Top 25 since March 1978. A victory on Sunday over Dayton on the RedHawks' court could get them consideration.
"I never think about the Top 25," coach Charlie Coles said. "I think the players do, but I don't think I can afford to. I'm always afraid of guys being let down a little bit."
After opening the season with its first national ranking in nine years, Tennessee (2-2) is suffering a letdown that could lead to a quick poll exit. The Volunteers opene the season at No. 9, played four games in seven days and lost in the closing minutes to Arizona and Miami.
"The way we've played in the two big games we've been in, we didn't play like a Top 25 team," guard Brandon Wharton said. "We don't deserve to be in there."
"We knew Tennessee was coming off a couple of tough games and didn't have much rest," Szczerbiak said. "We knew if we stuck it out in the end, they'd wilt at the end."
Miami outscored Tennessee 8-2 in the final 3:16 to pull it out. A technical foul on Tennessee's C.J. Black for a tussle with Mike Ensminger fueled the decisive spurt.
"The technical was unnecessary when we were in good position at the time," Green said.
Szczerbiak hit 14 of 23 shots from the field and was extremely consistent. He scored 17 in the first half, when Miami built a 12-point lead.
Tennessee turned up its half-court, man-to-man pressure at the start of the second half and put together a 10-point run of its own for a 40-39 lead. Black had a close-in basket and a 3-pointer to give Tennessee its first lead since the early in the game.
The Volunteers built the lead to six points before Miami made a 14-3 run behind Szczerbiak, who had a follow-up basket and a driving layup to put the RedHawks up 59-54 with 6:27 left.
After Tennessee rallied one more time, Szczerbiak's turnaround jumper put Miami ahead to stay 61-60 with 3:16 to play. He also sank both free throws after Black's technical.
"Once we get a lead, we've got to keep the lead," said Black, who led Tennessee with 19 points. "It seems we get out of control when we're five or six points ahead. It seems we go crazy."
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