The No. 5 Tennessee Volunteers (24-2, 12-1) should have had no problem getting up for the Vanderbilt Commodores (9-16, 0-13) on Tuesday night. After getting bludgeoned by the Kentucky Wildcats over the weekend, the former top rated team in college basketball had much to prove against a team that almost pulled a shocker earlier in the year.
However, the potential No. 1 seed was unable to put the Commodores away early. They barely outlasted the Commodores late with a 58-46 win. An uninspired performance on the offensive side of the ball really created a lull in the action for both teams. Thankfully, a tough defense kept the Commodores unbalanced all night. Otherwise, the Vols would have been looking at two straight losses. Instead, they head into another SEC showdown against the LSU Tigers this weekend.
Grant Williams led all scorers with 14 points and 11 rebounds. Admiral Schofield and Lamonte Turner each dropped in 12 points and 5 rebounds. Jordan Bone contributed 9 points, 4 rebounds and 6 assists. However, Bone and Schofield accounted for 8 of the 12 turnovers during the 12 point victory.
Aaron Nesmith led the Commodores with 13 points on 5 of 14 shooting. He tried keeping the Commodores in the game, but they could never find a good shot to get the team over the hump in the second half. As a result, Nesmith was the only player to score in double figures. As a result, Bryce Drew’s team remained winless in SEC play. Yet, it wasn’t due to a lack of effort.
The Volunteers led 36-27 at the break. Despite going up by 14 points at 36-22, the Commodores scored five straight points to get the game within single digits before the halftime buzzer. Unfortunately, it was more of the same to begin the second half.
Neither team could hit a shot. Both teams combined to score 11 points in the first eight minutes of action. Furthermore, the Vols had four turnovers early in the half. It wasn’t until Schofield found the mark from the perimeter that the Volunteers actually put the game away. During the first 36 minutes of action, Schofield scored four points. He connected on consecutive jumpshots, including a 3-pointer turn a 46-38 lead into a 51-38 lead.
However, the Commodores refused to go away. Nesmith answered with a deep three from beyond the arc and a smooth reverse layup to get the lead back to single digits. Moments later, Schofield committed a flagrant foul on Simi Shittu. However, Shittu only made 1 of 2 free throws. Then, the Commodores were unable to score on the possession and the lead stayed at 51-44.
The game was played within 4 to 8 points for most of the second half, but Vanderbilt could never put game pressure on the Volunteers. After a quick burst by Nesmith and company, the Vols lead got down to 38-34.
Turner led all scorers with 10 points at halftime. He also led everybody with five rebounds. However, it was his 3-point shooting that highlighted the sluggish first half. With the Volunteers getting off to a slow start, Turner connected on back to back daggers, including a four-point play to facilitate a 9-0 run. As a result, the Volunteers turned a three point deficit into a 19-13 lead. Turner’s final 3-pointer came off of a devastating screen by Williams above the arc. The shot gave the Volunteers their first double digit lead of the game.
Meanwhile, the Commodores had three players tie for the team lead with six points apiece at the break. Matt Ryan knocked down a pair of threes, while Shittu and Matthew Moyer each contributed six points in the first half. Shittu only finished with nine points.
Both teams were adequate from beyond the arc in the first half. The Commodores were 5 of 12 from 3-point range, while the Volunteers connected on 4 of 11 shots from deep in the first 20 minutes. However, the Commodores finished 7 of 23 from 3-point range. The Volunteers knocked in 6 of 21 3-point shots, including the last one by Schofield before the final buzzer. Overall, the Volunteers shot 41 percent from the field, while holding the Commodores to 31 percent.
If they expect to hold onto a possible No. 1 seed on Selection Sunday, the Volunteers will need to play much better than they have displayed the last couple of games.