With tears streaming down his face, an emotional Admiral Schofield tapped his chest and pointed at a roaring Thompson-Boling Arena on Tuesday night.
Along with fellow seniors Kyle Alexander, Lucas Campbell and Brad Woodson, it was Schofield’s last home game in a Tennessee uniform.
He made the most of it.
The Zion, Illinois native dropped 18 points against Mississippi State, including the first shot of the night, to boost the fifth-ranked Vols to a 71-54 win.
The victory moves Tennessee to a perfect 18-0 record at home this season, and it puts the Vols within range of a second consecutive SEC regular season title.
Schofield said he had gotten most of his emotions out earlier in the day, but he added that any crying was due to being “appreciative” rather than sad.
“I think it was harder this morning, waking up and realizing this would be my last game,” Schofield said. “I got most of the tears out this morning. I was just more thankful because of the amount of suppport I got when my name was called. It was very touching to see how many people support me. It wasn’t a sad type of tears. It was more of appreciative tears.”
Alexander shed several tears as well, and the emotions from the two left Tennessee coach Rick Barnes worried as the clock ticked toward tip-off.
“I thought that Admiral and Kyle were really locked in,” Barnes said later. “Sometimes you expect it to be the other way around where the seniors are too emotional, but I thought those guys were terrific.”
The Canadian big man chipped in six points and 10 boards on the night. Two of those points came on a rim-rocking slam, and Alexander added four blocks against the Bulldogs, too.
Alexander reiterated, however, that the performance wasn’t his main goal of the night. Instead, the post player was simply looking to log a few minutes of playing time during his last game in Knoxville.
“I was just glad I got to play in my final game at home,” Alexander said. “I got 10 rebounds, so I was excited about that. At the end of the day, I am just happy we won and protected our home court all season.”
“These fans have really been supportive since day one,” Alexander continued. “I know Coach Barnes always talks about how I was a baby giraffe my freshman year. For the fans to stick with me from that time, that is the best fanbase in the country. I was a struggle my freshman year. Coming from Canada, I was looking for a homey vibe, and Tennessee definitely gave me that. I am blessed.”
After Schofield scored to start things off, the Vols jumped out to a 24-15 lead that grew to 35-21 at halftime.
He added the first points of the second half as well, as a slicing bounce pass from Jordan Bone found Schofield in the lane.
A 15-2 run during the final 20 minutes put Tennessee ahead 48-29. During that stretch, Barnes’ team held the Bulldogs to 1-of-10 shooting from the floor.
Still, Barnes wasn’t satisfied.
“I thought we were good other than the fact that we started the game giving up offensive rebounds,” Barnes said. “They’re long, they’re a very long team, and we were getting pushed inside a little bit.
Tonight, I just didn’t think that we were locked in quite as much as we needed to be.”
Nevertheless, the Vols walked away with the win, as 17 turnovers and 33 percent shooting from field-goal range hampered the Bulldogs.
With 2:23 to go in the game, the win got even sweeter for Tennessee’s seniors.
As Schofield walked off the Vols’ home floor for the last time, he wrapped Barnes in a bear hug as he and Alexander made their way to the bench.
Then, amidst chants of “Brad and Lucas,” senior walk-on’s Brad Woodson and Lucas Campbell checked in.
Woodson made the most of the appearance, as he drilled the final shot of the game from NBA three-point range with seconds to play.
Thompson-Boling Arena exploded in response.
“Just looking back on tonight, it was emotional at the beginning, but once the game started it was all about the game,” Woodson said. “Afterwards, with the three and everything, I haven’t stop smiling since the game ended. It’s just a lot of joy right now.”
Campbell added that walking on at Tennessee has been a “dream come true” for him, but his head coach did lament one drawback about Campbell and Woodson’s four years in Knoxville.
“My only regret is at no point in time were we able to put both guys on scholarship,” Barnes said. “If we had two scholarships, we would’ve given it to both of them as soon as we could’ve.”
After the buzzer sounded, Schofield and Alexander grabbed a couple of microphones to thank the Tennessee fans in attendance before heading into the locker room.
Schofield gave an emphatic “We got this!” when discussing the Vols’ postseason plans, and he showed appreciation for a support system that has been “amazing for these four years.”
Now, the Vols look ahead to their road matchup at Auburn on Saturday.
Should Tennessee pull out a win, it will clinch at least a share of the SEC regular season title. With an LSU loss against either Florida or Vanderbilt, the accolade would fall to the Vols outright.
First, though, Tennessee must pull out a victory against the Tigers, which is far from guaranteed according to Tennessee’s head coach.
“Auburn is clearly in a good position for the NCAA Tournament,” Barnes said. “It’s going to be a hard game, but it’s supposed to be hard. We know that, and we’re going to have to play well.”
Tip against Auburn is slated for noon ET, 11 a.m. CT at Auburn Arena on Saturday.
Edited by Christian Knox
Sports editor Jake Nichols has been part of the TNJN staff in two different capacities. His freshman and sophomore years, Jake worked as a staff writer before moving on to write for Rocky Top Insider, and he also worked with VFL Films and the SEC Network for a semester his junior year. When asked the summer before his senior year to return to TNJN as the sports editor, Jake jumped at the chance to end his time in Knoxville working with the organization he first began with as a freshman. Jake is excited to help lead younger writers, much like former editors Cody McClure and Jordan Dajani aided him. Jake also does freelance sports coverage and photography for The Mountain Press in Sevierville, Tenn., and in his spare time, he can be found with family, his girlfriend or driving his Jeep, most likely with his Canon in tow. Be sure and follow Jake on Twitter and Instagram at @jnichols_2121, and keep up with TNJN Sports on Twitter as well!