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No. 22 Tennessee holds off late Vanderbilt rally behind Bowden’s big night

Austin Perryman/Tennessee Athletics

Vanderbilt put forth its best effort in the second half, but the Vols held off their in-state rival for the 67-62 win at Thompson-Boling Arena. The win ends a three-game losing streak for UT against Vanderbilt in Knoxville.

“You’ve got to give them total credit in the second half…whatever they saw they took advantage of it,” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said in his postgame press conference. “The momentum turned around and they outplayed us totally in the second half.

“It’s an SEC win. I’ve said before, Vanderbilt is not an easy out for anybody, know that. We should know it anyway.”

The Commodores jumped out to an early 7-4 lead, holding UT to just four points in the first six and a half minutes of the game.

After a Payton Willis long ball in the opening minute, Vanderbilt missed its next 17 3-point attempts. A 9-0 run, followed by a 14-2 run later in the first half, propelled the Vols out to a 32-15 halftime lead.

The 15 first-half points were the fewest Tennessee has allowed in a half all season to an SEC opponent.

Jordan Bowden, who had a team-high 19 points and career-high five 3s, shot 3-of-3 from beyond the arc in the first half, giving the Commodores matchup problems all night.

“We like it when he (Bowden) is aggressive,” Barnes said. “But I’ve always said he’s got to do that within himself. His free throw shooting has been atrocious the last few games and he’s better than that.”

In the second half, Vanderbilt began to mount a rally. Riley LaChance and Jeff Roberson put the team on their backs, combining for 38 second-half points and trimming a 20-point deficit to just two.

“We know they’re capable of scoring points, LaChance and Roberson” Barnes added. “I really like those two, they play a lot of minutes.

“You’ve got to give them credit for doing that. We’re not so good believing we can get a big lead and think that the game is over.”

Down by 14, the Commodores held the Vols scoreless for a little over seven minutes, allowing themselves to climb back in it. After seeing the lead cut to 60-58, Lamonte Turner knocked down a crucial 3-pointer with just over a minute left to play — all but sealing the win for Tennessee.

But as good as Vanderbilt’s duo was, Bowden and Grant Williams were just a little bit better. Bowden knocked down 11 more points in the second half, while Williams, who scored 37 points in his last outing against Vandy, went 11-of-12 from the foul line in the second half.

“The past couple of years, these are games that we did let get away. We’ve done this before, where we’ve had leads and let teams come back and take the lead. But we’ve also this year found a way to hang on and get it done.”

Tennessee’s next game is Saturday at Iowa State in the Big 12/SEC Challenge. Tipoff is at 4 p.m. and can be seen on ESPNU.

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