Tennessee takes down in-state rival Vanderbilt 65-61

The Vols defeated the Commodores for the second time this season, but this time Vanderbilt finished within striking distance when the final buzzer sounded.

The Tennessee Volunteers (15-11, 7-6 SEC) faced the Vanderbilt Commodores (9-17, 1-12 SEC) in a back-and-forth matchup on Tuesday. Though Vanderbilt came in as the lowest ranked team in the SEC and fell to Tennessee 66-45 at home in January, the Commodores were able to stick with the Volunteers for much of the game.

Tennessee spread the ball out early and often in the first half before turning to Jordan Bowden for a boost. Bowden, who led the Vols in the half with 12 points, hit three-of-seven shots from the field and added four points on as many free throws.

“We hope that he’ll start knocking some more down,” Tennessee Coach Rick Barnes said at the postgame press conference on Bowden. “I did think he played with confidence, I thought he had a good pace about him on the offensive end.”

Bowden was the only Vol to connect from deep in the first half, as Tennessee went a combined 2-of-10 from beyond the arc. Inside the arc, the Vols struggled to control and distribute the ball, leading to six first-half turnovers that allowed Vanderbilt to build a small lead near the end of the second half. Tennessee guard Jalen Johnson tied the game up with a last-second layup to make it a 28-28 at halftime.

Vanderbilt came out of the locker room hot and retook the lead before a Tennessee free throw tied the game back up with just over ten minutes remaining.

Jordan Wright made a few key second-half baskets that kept the game within reach for Vanderbilt. The freshman guard was a force for the Commodores all night and led his team in scoring with 23 points.

“A few games back Jordan was kind of on the outside looking in. He got a little bit of that pine medicine and now he came back and it was good for him,“Vanderbilt coach Jerry Stackhouse said on Wright’s breakout performance.

However, Tennessee had too many offensive options for Vanderbilt to handle, and the Vols began to pull away late in the game. Vanderbilt turned it on in the last minute, but the Commodores could not overcome the 10-point lead. Tennessee walked off the court with a second win against Vanderbilt in 2020, this time 65-61, and a winning SEC record.

One bright spot for the Vols was Santiago Vescovi’s continued improvement. The freshman guard distributed the ball well and made heads-up passes while shooting 45.4% from the floor for 14 points.

However, as Barnes pointed out postgame, Vescovi was sloppy at times and accounted for six of Tennessee’s 15 turnovers.

“You don’t breakthrough by playing well when things are going well. You break through by playing every possession like every possession matters,” Barnes said on his team’s struggles against Vanderbilt. “You don’t have to be perfect. You don’t, but you cannot be sloppy … You can’t turn the ball over the way we turned it over.”

Next on the slate for the Vols is a trip to Auburn this Saturday. Tip-off on Feb. 22 in Auburn Arena is scheduled for noon.

Edited by Ryan Sylvia and Libby Dayhuff

Featured image by Christian Knox