Seven scholarship players proved to be more than enough as short-handed Vanderbilt beat cold-handed Tennessee 64-60 Wednesday night at Memorial Gym in Nashville.
The Vols shot a chilly 37.7 percent (23 of 61) from the field, 30.4 percent (7 of 23) from 3 and 63.6 percent (7 of 11) from the foul line. Their defense was just as bad, allowing the Commodores to shoot 52.2 percent (24 of 46) from the field and 40 percent (6 of 15) from beyond the arc.
Although Tennessee clawed back from a 12-point deficit to tie the score at 53 late, it probably lost this game in the first half. Playing passive defense, the Vols allowed the Commodores to hit 60 percent from the field (15 of 25), including 50 percent (4 of 8) from 3-point range. Then, hoping to trim a 34-26 deficit on its final possession of the half, Tennessee turned the ball over and Vandy scored off the miscue to take a 36-26 lead to the locker room.
“It’s tough when you dig yourself a hole like that,” head coach Cuonzo Martin said on the post-game show. “We didn’t execute the play at the end of the half. We’re down eight, then we’re down 10.”
The last-possession misplay wasn’t too surprising, however. Tennessee struggled mightily with Vandy’s zone throughout the first 20 minutes.
“I thought we were passive on some perimeter 3s in the first half,” Martin said. “I don’t think we were cutting as hard as we need to cut and being aggressive. Whether they’re in man or zone, you’ve got to still be aggressive. You’ve got to find your bigs and you’ve got to play.”
When Vanderbilt scored the first bucket coming out of the break, the Vols found themselves trailing by a dozen points (38-26). Still down 49-40 midway through the second half, Tennessee finally showed some life.
A 3-pointer and a driving six-footer by Jordan McRae trimmed the deficit to 49-45. After a pair of Vandy free throws, Jeronne Maymon’s three-point play narrowed the gap to 51-48. Vandy scored a basket but McRae answered with another 3 and Maymon scored on a nifty pass from freshman point guard Darius Thompson to tie the score at 53-all with 6:35 remaining.
“I thought we did a better job battling in the second half,” Martin said. “That got us back in the game – doing the things we need to do – but we just didn’t capitalize.”
Tennessee made its run while 6-foot-10, 235-pound Vandy freshman Damian Jones was on the bench with foul woes. He returned to the floor at this point, and the tide quickly turned in the Commodores' favor. Dai-Jon Parker broke the tie with a 3-pointer. After Vanderbilt’s James Siakam and Tennessee’s Jarnell Stokes swapped a free throw each, Jones took advantage of a defensive breakdown by the Vols to score on a lob dunk, bumping the lead to 59-54 with 4:17 remaining.
Two Stokes foul shots narrowed the gap to 59-56 but Rod Odom hit a 3-pointer that bumped Vandy’s lead to 62-56 with 48 seconds left. Tennessee clawed back, however, pulling within 62-60 on a transition layup by A.J. Davis and a 19-footer by Josh Richardson.
When Kyle Fuller missed the front end of a second consecutive 1-and-1 with 16 seconds left, Tennessee had the ball down just 62-60. Richardson’s drive for the tying basket ended when he was stripped by Parker on a controversial no-call that Martin questioned.
“The lane opened up for him (Richardson), and I thought he got fouled,” the Vol coach said. “The guy (Parker) swiped down and, whether he hit the ball or not, he had his body on him. That was a tough call.”
Odom hit a pair of free throws with 3.4 seconds left to secure the win and the final score.
The 6-foot-9 Odom finished 8 of 12 from the field and 4 of 7 from 3 en route to a game-high 26 points. Fuller chipped in 12 points and 10 assists for the Commodores, whose four-game winning streak has them 13-8 overall and 5-4 in SEC play.
“Even though Odom hit some shots and scored 26 points, I thought Fuller set the tone with his dribble penetration in that high-ball screen (offense),” Martin said. “He was attacking the rim, keeping the ball alive, finding the shooters but also finishing himself. We allowed him to get his head up early in the game, and he stayed confident throughout.”
McRae scored 16 points for Tennessee but went just 6 of 18 from the field. Richardson chipped in 14 points. Stokes added 11 points and 14 rebounds, while Maymon chipped in 9 points and 11 rebounds for the Vols, now 14-8 overall and 5-4 in league play.
Tennessee won the backboards 41-26 but was outscored 34-22 on points in the paint. This was due to an alarming number of breakdowns in both the man and 1-3-1 zones that gave Vanderbilt wide-open layups and dunks.
The Vols return to action Saturday, hosting South Carolina at 3.