After coming off a postponed game on Tuesday night, Tennessee and Vanderbilt finally took to the court on Saturday night. The Vols were looking to build upon a nice performance in college Station.
Tennessee didn’t have to wait long for the scoring spurt to begin, as they rushed out to a 7-0 lead in just under two minutes. The bench performance has been a key point of emphasis for Rick Barnes, so it wasn’t surprising to see a switch with the first sub. Olivier Nkamhoua took the place of E.J. Anosike tonight in the forward rotation, though it didn’t take long to see Anosike hit the court.
The Vols had some perfect looks at the basket but struggled to knock down their open shots, especially coming off the screen. The Vols led 15-14 at the under twelve break, as John Fulkerson had 6 points for Tennessee. Things started to turn for Vanderbilt coming out of the break.
The Dores went on a 10-0 run during this stretch, leading 19-17, as the Vols struggled to find their man in the off-ball defense. Give credit to the Dores; they continued to find the open looks.
Things seemed to finally turn back towards the Vols, as Santiago Vescovi forced a turnover and hit a streaking Josiah-Jordan James for the dunk and foul. The Vols led 23-21 at the under the four-minute break, as they were shooting 40% from the field.
Tennessee had 8 points off 8 Vanderbilt turnovers to this point. At halftime, Tennessee led 34-24, thanks to Fulkerson’s 10 points and 6 rebounds. The Vols shot 43% in the first half from the field while holding Vandy to 20% from the three-point range. The Vols were doing their best to pressure the Dores in the frontcourt.
Vanderbilt out-scored Tennessee 11-7 during the opening portion of the first half, having the lead cut to 41-35 at the first break of the half. As Scottie Pippen Jr continued to find his shot, the Vols took care of the other four. Pippen finished the game with 18 points, keeping the Dores within striking distance for a small period of time.
The Vols broke this one open around the under twelve break, as the Vols led 53-49. Victor Bailey Jr. had 9 points in the 2nd half, hitting back-to-back three-pointers and speaking to the crowd. Tennessee was on a 12-2 run, thanks to solid defense and transition buckets. Taking Vanderbilt out of their comfort zone behind the perimeter was key for the Vols.
As the 2nd half marched on, the Vols continued to find their way towards the basket. Tennessee had 18 points in the paint during the 2nd half, with 12 points off turnovers.
This was another business-like performance for the Vols, after a hiccup in the 1st half. It never felt like Vanderbilt was getting close after the Vols re-took the lead. When you can force turnovers in the paint and force your opponents to make mistakes outside the perimeter, that’s what makes Tennessee so deadly.
The Vols finished with four players in double-digits, as Keon Johnson led the way with 16 points, while his teammate Jaden Springer had 10 points.
If it weren’t for Victor Bailey and John Fulkerson, the Vols could’ve been in a much closer game. As Fulkerson was taking control of the paint, Bailey was opening things up behind the arc.
Tonight was a game the Vols can hang their hats on. Tennessee hadn’t played in seven days but looked to not skip a beat after a few glitches midway through the first half. If the Vols can continue getting points from different leaders and rely on the freshman, this group could have a very nice run.
Next up for the Vols, a trip to Gainesville.
All Images Courtesy Of Tennessee Athletic Communications