5 Observations: Tennessee 66, Vanderbilt 45

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    (Photo via Tennessee Athletics)

    Vanderbilt had made a three-point field goal in every game they had played since the inception of the three-point line in college basketball. That is, until Saturday’s game against the Vols.

    The Commodores had made a three-pointer in 1,080-straight games heading into Saturday’s match-up with Tennessee, but that streak came crashing to the court in Memorial Gym. Vanderbilt attempted 25 three-pointers against their in-state foes, but not a single one fell.

    Vanderbilt did have one three-point shot ring true. Unfortunately for them, they didn’t get the shot off in time before the shot clock buzzer sounded.

    Thanks to that historically-bad shooting performance from three and an inspired offensive showing from the Vols in the second half, Tennessee (11-6, 3-2 SEC) left Nashville with a 66-45 victory over the Commodores (8-9, 0-4).

    The first half was an ugly affair, with the two teams combining for 41 points. In the second half, the Vols scored 45 points, while Vanderbilt managed just 25.

    Three different Vols scored in double figures, with Jordan Bowden leading the way with 21 points. Josiah-Jordan James flirted with a triple-double, totaling six points, nine rebounds, and five assists.

    Vanderbilt totaled 24 points from made field goals. Almost half of their points (21) came from the free throw line.

    Here are our five biggest takeaways from the Vols’ 21-point win over the Commodores.

    Second Half, Different Story

    The first half was one of the ugliest halves of play the Vols have played in a long time. Tennessee led Vanderbilt by a score of 21-20, and UT committed 10 turnovers in the half.

    In the second half, it was a completely different story for both teams.

    Tennessee came out on fire after halftime, and they never let off the gas pedal in the final 20 minutes of play. The Vols opened up the second half on a 10-0 run, and they continued to add to their lead as the minutes passed. The Vols dropped 45 points on the Commodores in the second half, shooting 66.7 percent from the floor as a team. Tennessee still had some turnover troubles, giving the ball away eight times, but they forced 11 Vanderbilt turnovers on the other end.

    Speaking of Vanderbilt, their offense stayed as ice cold in the second half as it was in the first half.

    The Commodores managed just 25 points in the second half and shot an abysmal 25 percent from the floor in the final half of play. Vanderbilt had one assist compared to their 11 turnovers in the second half. And, of course, they finished 0-of-25 from three.

    What was a close game at halftime turned into a blowout in the second half, and the Vols looked like a totally different team after halftime.

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    Finally, Some Paint Presence 

    Tennessee had been outscored in the paint in four of their last five games heading into Saturday’s contest. But the Vols finally found a way to get points down in the post, and they completely controlled the paint on both sides of the court.

    The Vols outscored Vanderbilt 42-20 in the paint on Saturday. John Fulkerson scored 12 points, and Yves Pons also scored 12 and had two monster dunks. Fulkerson himself had a highlight-worthy jam. Jordan Bowden scored on some layups and shots in the paint as well.

    Tennessee also out-rebounded Vanderbilt, holding a 35-29 edge on the boards. Fulkerson nearly had a double-double with eight rebounds to go along with his 12 points, and Josiah-Jordan James added nine rebounds to go along with six points and five assists.

    Dominant Defense 

    Yes, Vanderbilt missed a lot of shots themselves that had little to do with Tennessee’s defense. But the Vols’ defense also really affected what the Commodores did on offense.

    Tennessee blocked eight shots as a team, with both Yves Pons and Josiah-Jordan James finishing with three blocks apiece. Tennessee totaled six steals and scored 20 points off 17 Vanderbilt turnovers. The Commodores shot a paltry 23.5 percent from the floor, and as stated above, missed all 25 of their three-pointers. Vanderbilt only made 12 field goals as a team, meaning the Vols almost blocked as many shots as the Commodores made.

    Vanderbilt’s 45 points are a season-low for the Commodores, and it’s the lowest total an SEC team has scored against the Vols since UT defeated Auburn 71-45 back on February 9, 2016.

    Bowden Bounces Back

    Jordan Bowden entered Saturday’s game against Vanderbilt mired in a slump. The Vols’ only scholarship senior had made just 21.2 percent of his field goals over his last five games, averaging 8.2 points a game in the process.

    Against the Commodores, Bowden finally appeared to break out of his funk.

    The senior guard put up a game-high 21 points on 7-of-11 shooting in Nashville. He still missed both the three-pointers he attempted, but he was 7-of-8 from the free throw line and added two assists and two rebounds to go with his 21 points.

    Saturday’s game marked the first time since the Vols’ second game of the season, a win over Murray State on November 12th, that Bowden had eclipsed the 20-point mark in a game.

    Home Sweet Nashville 

    Tennessee has essentially made Nashville a second home in men’s basketball.

    The Vols have now beaten the Commodores in four-straight games in Memorial Gym, and counting games in the SEC Tournament, Tennessee has beaten Vanderbilt five-straight times in Nashville.

    Tennessee has now won seven of the last eight games they’ve played against Vanderbilt in Nashville.

    Nathanael Rutherford is the managing editor and social media manager for Rocky Top Insider. Nathanael graduated from the University of Tennessee and cultivated a passion for the Vols while growing up in Knoxville a mere 10 minutes from Neyland Stadium. He's been a part of the RTI team since November of 2015 and has been the editor of RTI since June of 2017. If he's not talking or writing about Tennessee athletics, he's probably talking about Star Wars.