Vanderbilt (7-13, 2-6 SEC) erased a 20-point deficit, but the comeback fell short as the Commodores lost to No. 22 Tennessee 67-62 in Knoxville. Jordan Bowden stepped up for Tennessee, scoring a team-high 19 points. Tennessee forward Grant Williams put a stop to the Vandy run, scoring 11 points in the second half on 11-of-13 shooting from the free throw line.
Both team’s defenses were successful early on, as the two teams combined for just nine points after nearly six minutes of play in the first half. The turning point came at the 13:05 mark, as guard James Daniel III hit a deep go-ahead 3-pointer for the Vols. Tennessee finished out the first half on a 14-2 run and held Vanderbilt to under 30 percent shooting from the floor.
Tennessee’s perimeter defense was impressive on the night. The Vols held the Commodores to 1-of-12 shooting from 3-point range in the first half. Neither team looked hot offensively, but Tennessee’s suffocating defense caused seven first half turnovers and forced Vanderbilt into poor shot selection.
Tennessee’s defense held the Commodores to a season-low 15 points in the first 20 minutes of play, as the Vols entered halftime with a 32-15 lead. Vanderbilt forward Jeff Roberson – eight points – scored over half of the Commodores points after one half of play, while Bowden led the Vols with 11 points on 3-of-4 shooting from beyond-the-arc.
Tennessee continued its impressive play early in the second half, as did Bowden. The Volunteers extended their lead to 20 points on Vanderbilt with Bowden’s fifth 3-pointer of the night. However, Tennessee watched its lead get whittled down to just 12 points with under 11 minutes left to play in regulation. Commodores guard Riley LaChance kept Vanderbilt in the game with three straight 3-pointers to cut the deficit to single-digits with under 10 minutes remaining.
“He’s a tremendous shooter,” Vanderbilt head coach Bryce Drew said. “As a coach I just kind of wanted to get out of the way and ride him.”
The Vols finally collapsed as they went on a nearly four-minute scoring drought with 11 minutes remaining in the game. Vanderbilt cut the Tennessee lead to just four points following a layup from Roberson at the 7:02 mark.
Tennessee was able to fend off the Commodores thanks to the play of Williams. The Vols force-fed the sophomore the ball, leading to 14 free throw attempts in which Williams knocked down 12 of them. Tennessee was aided by Vanderbilt’s excessive fouling, as they put the Vols in the double-bonus with 2:50 left in the game.
The Commodores were unable to overcome the four-point deficit. That is, until LaChance hit yet another jumper to cut the Tennessee lead to 59-57 with under two minutes remaining. However, Lamonte Turner put the nail in the coffin with a 3-pointer at the one-minute mark. Tennessee made its free throws and completed its first sweep of Vanderbilt since the 2012-13 season.
“We’re not so good that we can get a big lead and think the game is over, but it’s an SEC win,” said Vols head coach Rick Barnes. “What I want to see is consistency.”
“Consistency is the difference between a top 5 team and a top 20 team. We could be a top 5 team, but we haven’t been consistent enough. We have to fix that,” Williams said.
Edited by Ben McKee
Featured image courtesy of Tennessee Athletics