Well, it almost happened again.
The last time the Vols were ranked No. 1 in college basketball, they traveled on the road to Nashville and lost a close game to Vanderbilt. This past Monday, Tennessee got voted No. 1 in college basketball again, and the Vols had to go on the road to face Vanderbilt again as their first game as the No. 1 team in the country.
This time, though, the Commodores couldn’t pull off the upset. But they got awfully close.
No. 1 Tennessee (17-1, 6-0 SEC) somehow found a way to pull out a win over Vanderbilt (9-9, 0-6 SEC) on the road in overtime. The win marked the Vols’ 13th-straight victory, and this is the best start to a season in UT history since they joined the SEC in 1931.
Vanderbilt led 76-70 with 1:32 to go in the game, and it looked like they were on their way to another upset over No. 1 Tennessee 11 years after they did it in 2008. But that’s when Grant Williams, who had already been having a stellar night, asserted himself even more.
Williams connected on two free throws to make it 76-72 with 1:22 left. Then, he made a layup to cut Vanderbilt’s lead to 76-74.
Then, Admiral Schofield, who had been missing shots left and right all night, provided the equalizer.
Schofield hit a jumper with just over 38 seconds to go to pull even with the Commodores. Schofield made just two field goals all night, but that one was huge for Tennessee.
Then, a bizarre series of events unfolded.
Vanderbilt had a shot blocked on their possession, and Jordan Bowden hauled in a transitional pass as he was sprinting down the court to try and grab a lead. He drove toward the basket and put up a layup at full speed.
But Bowden’s shot was blocked.
Vanderbilt got possession and tried to pass it up the court, but Grant Williams intercepted it and smartly called a timeout with two seconds remaining. The officials reviewed the clock and ended up adding another 1.3 seconds to the game.
On the inbounds play, Williams got the ball, tried to get it to Schofield, but he was denied. He forced up a bad three-pointer and had the shot partially blocked.
That’s how the game went to overtime.
In overtime, Williams continued to pour it on from the free throw line. He picked up two and-ones and scored the Vols’ first 10 points in overtime. Jordan Bone closed out the game with two free throws, ending that 10-point run by Williams.
Tennessee was able to hold off the Commodores’ upset bid in overtime, but it took a strong effort from Williams and the defense. Vanderbilt took a 82-81 lead with 42 seconds to go, but Tennessee would ride Williams and finally ice it away.
Here are our five biggest takeaways from a heart-racing 88-83 victory for the Vols in overtime.
Grant’s Dominating Night
Grant Williams set multiple school records on Wednesday night, and Tennessee needed every bit of his Herculean effort to win.
Williams scored 43 points and added eight rebounds in 38 minutes of play. But that only tells part of the story.
Williams was a perfect 23-of-23 from the free throw line in the game, and he set the school record for most free throws made in a game and most consecutive free throws made. The previous records were held by Bill Justus in a game against Ohio in 1969. He made 22 of his 23 free throws and made 18-straight at one point.
Williams’ 43 points were the most points scored by a Vol in a single game since Allan Houston dropped 43 against LSU on February 10th, 1990. His 43 points are tied for the fifth-most points in a single game in program history. He’s only the 10th different Vol to score 40 points in a single game.
The Vols scored 50 combined points in the second half and overtime. Grant Williams scored 35 of those points.
It’s safe to say that Williams’ 43 points are a career-high for him, and Tennessee needed every point.
Grant Loves Nashville
This isn’t the first time Grant Williams has gone off in Nashville, though.
Last year, Grant set a career-high (at the time) against Vanderbilt in Nashville when the Vols beat the Commodores 92-84. Williams scored 37 points and added seven rebounds in that game. That time, he was 13-of-15 from the free throw line and was 12-of-19 from the field.
In Grant’s last two games on the road against Vanderbilt, he’s totaled 80 points and 15 rebounds, and he’s made 36 of his 38 free throws. He’s also gone 22-of-34 from the floor in those two games.
Vandy’s Hot Shooting
Vanderbilt came into Wednesday night’s game hitting just 28.2 percent of their three-pointers in SEC play. Against the Vols, they obliterated that mark.
At one point, the Commodores had made seven of their 11 threes, and both Matt Ryan and Aaron Nesmith were killing the Vols from deep. Vanderbilt finished the game 10-of-21 from three, finishing the game hitting 47.6 percent of their threes.
A lot of Vanderbilt’s hot shooting had to do with them just finding a rhythm and finally making shots. But for a lot of the night, Tennessee’s perimeter defense was also pretty lacking.
Saben Lee, Ryan, and Nesmith combined to score 57 of Vanderbilt’s 83 points. They were a combined 9-of-17 from three.
No matter who lost this game, either side would’ve had plenty to complain about with the officiating.
The second half was full of whistles and questionable calls. There were double-dribbles not called, soft fouls being whistled, and an out-of-bounds call that was clearly off Vanderbilt that somehow got called off Tennessee and wasn’t reviewed.
The officiating wasn’t necessarily a one-sided affair, but it was just bad. There were 49 fouls called, and two Vanderbilt players fouled out. The officials called a questionable double-technical on Admiral Schofield and Matt Ryan in the second half as well.
All the fouls and whistles marred what was otherwise an entertaining and exciting game.
Avoiding a Repeat
Somehow, Tennessee avoided being downed by Vanderbilt in nearly identical circumstances 11 years after the Commodores upset the No. 1 Vols in 2008.
That Vanderbilt team in 2008 was one of the better Commodore teams in recent memory. That team was ranked No. 18 at the time ended up earning a No. 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament. This Vanderbilt team had lost a school-record five-straight SEC games to start conference play.
But that didn’t matter. The Commodores were up by six with a minute and a half to go.
But somehow, Tennessee and Grant Williams found a way to win, and they’re now 1-0 as the No. 1 team in the country this season.