Rick Barnes caught plenty of flack for the way he managed the end of the No. 2-seed Tennessee Volunteers’ 83-77 overtime win against the No. 10-seed Iowa Hawkeyes in the NCAA Tournament on Sunday.
The crux of the criticism centered around Admiral Schofield, his star small forward, who scored 19 points, but, seemingly inexplicably, wasn’t on the court for the end of regulation or any of overtime in Columbus.
The explanation is actually pretty simple, apparently. Barnes didn’t put Schofield in the game because Schofield told him not to.
“He didn’t want to play,” the coach said at his postgame news conference in Ohio. “He kept saying, ‘Leave Kyle (Alexander) in the game. Kyle is important.’ With four fouls, he knew they would come right at him. He said, ‘Coach, I can’t guard the way I can guard. I’m going to foul, so you have to leave Kyle in.’
“That was his decision. He said, leave Kyle in the game.”
Without Schofield, Tennessee missed a three-pointer at the end of regulation and went to overtime against the heavy underdog. In overtime, All-American power forward Grant Williams took over with six points to prevent a massive collapse at Nationwide Arena.
Iowa forced overtime after trailing the Volunteers by as much as 25. The Hawkeyes were able to chip away as Schofield, who scored 17 points in the first half, sat on the bench for long stretches because of foul trouble.
Alexander, a 6-foot-11 senior forward, also finished the game with four fouls, scoring eight points, going 4 of 5 from the free-throw line and grabbing a game-high nine rebounds. Barnes decided to trust his senior forwards’ hunches.
“They were talking during the timeout and we actually at one time put Admiral back in the game in regulation, but he said, ‘Coach, leave Kyle in the game. We have to have him to rebound the ball for us,’” Barnes said, “and I think you realize that the players, they have a feel better than probably anybody in the building and he felt like that was the best thing.
“It was great to see it happen today. I thought it was great. No selfishness on his part. He’s been with this guy forever, Kyle Alexander. He’s watched him grow up from a little baby giraffe to where he is today, where he used to wobble down the floor.”