5 Observations from UT’s Overtime Win Over Vandy

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    Josh Richardson-1-18NASHVILLE, Tenn. – In terms of SEC regular season hoops, it doesn’t get much more thrilling than Tennessee’s 76-73 overtime win over Vanderbilt (13-11, 3-8 SEC) on Wednesday night.

    A back and forth, entertaining first half ended with Tennessee up 35-32. Both teams shot 56% from 3-point territory in the first 20 minutes, and while Vandy had the edge in rebounding early, the Vols were better from the field and a 6-0 run in the final minutes gave them the slight edge. But the entertaining first half was just a precursor of what was to come over the next 25 minutes.

    The teams traded blows in the second half before Vandy started to pull away in the final seconds. Up five with 15 seconds left, the Commodores had all but sealed the win. A 3-pointer by Kevin Punter made it reasonable again, and, with some help from spotty free-throw shooting by the Commodores, the Vols got a final possession, down two points, and Robert Hubbs converted with a second left on the clock to send the game to overtime.

    Tennessee took it from there in overtime, pulling out the gut-check win on Vandy’s home court to move to 14-9 (6-5 SEC) on the season.

    Here are five key observation’s from the game:

    1. It was one of the craziest UT finishes in recent memory

    I asked Josh Richardson, the team’s most senior member, where that finish ranked in his UT career, and he quickly said it was right near the top, up there with the four-overtime win at Texas A&M in 2013. It was truly a wild ending, on par in many ways with the football team’s miracle win at South Carolina this past season. Tennessee was in such a grave spot that Vanderbilt fans were literally doing a mock “It’s great to be a Tennessee Vol” cheer in the closing seconds. And while Tennessee deserves credit for closing it out, Donnie Tyndall was quick to point out that his team caught a break by Vandy missing some free throws.

    “We were just fortunate in that regard,” he said. “Those kids played extremely hard.  We’ve been on the other side of games like that in the last couple of weeks, and again I know I am repeating myself, but we are very fortunate to win this game.”

    2. Richardson bounces back

    After a dreadful performance at Georgia – possibly the worst of his career – senior guard Josh Richardson bounced back in a huge way. Richardson got off to a hot start, scoring 12 points on 5-of-7 shooting in the first half, clearly heating up from his 1-of-13 performance from the field in Athens. He closed strong as well, finishing with 27 points on 10-of-18 shooting and also contributing seven rebounds, four assists and two steals. He scored five of UT’s nine overtime points. “So even without the points, certainly we love it that he scored 27, but he does good things to help our team in a lot of different ways,” Tyndall added.

    3. It was a wire-to-wire contest

    There were some forgettable, sloppy plays, but in terms of a tightly-contested game, this was about all you could ask for. There were 15 lead changes and neither team ever led by more than six points at any point in regulation or overtime. On paper, this was a fairly even matchup and it played out that way. The Vols came in with the better record, but Vandy had won two straight, while the Vols had dropped four of five, setting up this interesting in-state matchup. “That was like an NCAA tournament game in regards to the physicality, the environment,” Tyndall said. “Every possession was so valuable.”

    4. Reese finds his confidence

    His line wasn’t eye-popping, but the Vols got a nice boost from Derek Reese returning to form after playing a few of his worst games at Tennessee over the past week. Reese matched his career high with 12 points and added eight rebounds. The Vols needed him to help out in the post since Tariq Owens and Willie Carmichael were virtual non-factors on Wednesday. But while he did help some in that area, he also found his shot, connecting on 5-of-6 shots from the field and both of his 3-point attempts. He clearly had a different mindset heading into the Vandy game than he did the past two.

    5. Vols come up short getting to the line and rebounding

    It’s a bit ironic that Vandy lost, in part, because of free throws, because it was free throws that helped the Commodores build their late lead. It wasn’t so much that they hit a high percentage – they only made 57% for the game – but the fact that they got to the line so often. Even with its poor percentage, the Commodores still made seven more than did Tennessee and attempted 17 more. You can certainly point to the officiating in some instances, but there’s no doubt the Commodores did a better job overall of forcing those calls. Vandy also held the rebounding edge 35-29. Both things will be easier to work on after a win for Tennessee.

    Final Stats: