Tennessee knocked off Vandy in an exhilarating 67-65 victory on Thursday afternoon, holding off a late charge by the Commodores to advance to the quarterfinals of the SEC Tournament.
This one was as exciting as it gets.
Tennessee was the better team for much of the first half, despite a poor shooting performance. With five minutes to play in the first half, Tennessee had forced nine turnovers and padded its early lead to a 12-point advantage. Vandy hit its first 3-pointer with 3:39 to play in the first. The Vols took a 34-22 lead into the break, shooting 40% from the field in the first half, including 4-of-12 from behind the arc.
Vanderbilt came out hot in the second half, going on a 7-0 run following an Admiral Schofield layup. From there this became a game of runs. With 13 minutes to go in the game, Vandy switched to a zone defense, confusing Tennessee for much of the second half. A Damian Jones dunk gave Vandy a 59-58 advantage with 2:30 left, but the Vols did not back down.
Robert Hubbs answered with an acrobatic runner on the other end, which was followed seconds later by an Armani Moore 3-pointer, giving UT a 63-59 lead with a minute to play. Luke Kornet and Matthew Fisher-Davis hit two big 3-pointers to keep Vandy in it down the stretch, but Tennessee’s ability to track down its missed shots helped them maintain the slim advantage.
With four seconds to play, leading by two, Detrick Mostella missed the front end of the one-and-one. Wayne Baldwin got the rebound and raced down the floor for a layup which originally appeared to beat the buzzer, forcing overtime. After review however, Baldwin’s shot was waved off, giving Tennessee a 67-65 victory over the ‘Dores.
Baldwin's shot pic.twitter.com/Jp0Cqvehaq
— Rocky Top Insider (@rockytopinsider) March 10, 2016
Here are five observations from Tennessee’s win over Vanderbilt.
1. Undersized Tennessee Bullies Vanderbilt: Much had been made about Vandy’s size advantage against the Volunteers, but you could’t tell on Thursday. Tennessee “bigs” Armani Moore, Admiral Schofield and Derek Reese were tough and resilient in their post defense against 7-footers Luke Kornet and Damian Jones.
Kornet’s two baskets were 3-pointers, and while Jones added 12 points, he only had two rebounds. Jones was 5-of-8 from the floor, two of which were easy dunks in transition. Vanderbilt had moderate success when Jones had the ball in the low post, but what won’t show up on the stat sheet was Tennessee’s ability to deny him the ball and force contested shots later in the shot clock. The successful low-post denial from Reese and Schofield was an unexpected yet crucial piece of Tennessee’s win.
2. Derek Reese? Derek Reese!: The Tennessee senior showed up in a huge way again on Thursday. Reese had just seven points, but had a really gutsy, physical performance defensively against Kornet and Jones. After the game Reese said, “That was probably the craziest exciting game I’ve ever played in in my life. I can’t even talk right now.”
Reese’s experience and composure was a major asset for the Vols on both sides of the court. Reese hit the first 3-pointer of the game for either team, and stayed out of foul trouble throughout the contest, finishing with just one. On Wednesday, Reese said that he wanted to experience another Sweet-Sixteen run like the Vols did in 2014, and with his contribution on Thursday, the Vols lived to fight another day in the SEC Tournament.
3. Going Back to Back: With the win over Vanderbilt, Tennessee won its second game in a row for the first time since defeating ETSU and Tennessee State in December. When asked if he was ready to play another 40 minutes, Admiral Schofield said, “Naw, I’m tired. I need a nap, man.”
Tennessee found a way to dig deep and find its legs early in this one. In the most improbable of circumstances, playing games on two straight nights, the Vols found a way to string together two solid performances. Rick Barnes gave some encouragement to his team after the game, saying, “They’re kids… there are worse things in the world than having to get up tomorrow and play 40 minutes.”
4. History Lives on: In the history of its program, Vanderbilt has never beaten Tennessee three times in one season. That streak lived on. Tennessee moved to 9-1 all time against Vanderbilt in the SEC Tournament, the last loss coming in 1951.
Devon Baulkman said after the game, “We’ve earned this. We’ve been through a lot, and we’ve earned this.”
The Volunteers continued their unlikely run through the SEC Tournament by reversing so many trends from this season, getting back to what they historically do against Vanderbilt in March: win.
5. Raw Emotion Spilling Over: This was an emotional victory for Tennessee for a number of reasons. The Vols are playing for their lives without their star point-guard, and prolonged their season against an arch-rival. Admiral Schofield after the game said that he had never “cried out of happiness” in his life until Thursday after the game.
Tennessee hung Kevin Punter’s jersey in its locker room, and the players were emotional after the game talking about their senior leader. “I just had to be a leader,” Armani Moore said. “I’ve got to go out and give it all I can for KP.” Moore collapsed to the floor in tears after Baldwin’s last second shot was called off. Moore said, “Waiting on that last call was like getting a text from your mom saying she wants to talk. It was scary.”
Tennessee will play the fourth-seeded LSU Tigers Friday afternoon at approximately 3:00 p.m. ET. The Vols defeated the Tigers 81-65 in Thompson-Boling Arena three weeks ago.