No. 25 Tennessee traveled to Vanderbilt on Wednesday night looking to find an offense that has been sporadic most of the season. The Vols, coming off a rough outing against Kentucky, were hoping this would be the night they could put together a complete game.
Vanderbilt was missing Scottie Pippen Jr., Dylan Disu and Clevon Brown, as they were out with injuries. This setup the perfect opportunity for the Vols to take advantage of a depleted Commodores roster. Josiah-Jordan James returned to the court for the Vols on Wednesday night, a much welcomed sign for this squad.
Tonight’s game started off slow from the start, as Vanderbilt led 9-7 at the first media break. The Vols were 0-4 from three point range and were struggling to find good looks. But, coming out of the break, the Vols went on a 10-0 run, thanks in part to six points from Victor Bailey. Just as quickly as Tennessee ran got out on a run, Vanderbilt struck right back.
The Dores went on a 11-2 run over 5:22 and took the 20-19 lead at the under eight break. The Vols were struggling to hit a shot, but also just settling for way too many three point attempts, giving the Dores life. As the game continued, so did the spurts for each team.
The Vols led 25-20 at the final break of the first half, thanks in part to a 8-0 run and Vandy shooting 2-12 from the field during this stretch. This ended up turning into a 15-2 run at halftime, as the Vols led 32-22 at the break. Victor Bailey Jr. had 9 points, while Jaden Springer put up 8 points in the first half. One thing that did hurt Tennessee was the 10 turnovers in the first half, as they didn’t help themselves either in the 2nd half, finishing with 17 total on the night.
As the 2nd half began, John Fulkerson picked up his 3rd foul, putting him on the bench. At the first break of the 2nd half, the Vols led 39-25, thanks in part to 5 quick points from Victor Bailey. The Vols were looking to force the basket with Jaden Springer, as he continued to find shots around the rim.
Tennessee has a tendency force shots from behind the perimeter, which takes away the best thing this team does, which is drive the basket. The turnovers didn’t help the Vols tonight either, as they had way too many sloppy passes, giving Vanderbilt an opportunity to stay close.
The Vols were 1-7 during a stretch before the eight minute break, as the lead was cut to 52-45, thanks in part to Vanderbilt hitting tough three point shots. As the game continued to swing back and forth, Tennessee’s decision making on offense continued to be questionable. The Vols were trying so hard to get it into the post, they found themselves taking bad shots.
As the last break of the 2nd half came, Tennessee led 56-52, as they continued struggling with turnovers. Let’s be clear, the Vols should’ve been leading by double-digits at this point, but mental errors and some crazy shots by the commodores kept this game close.
Over the last 3:49 of the game, the Tennessee freshman took control and finally put the dagger into Vanderbilt. Jaden Springer and Keon Johnson scored a combined 10 points for the Vols and gave the Vols that final cushion they needed. Springer ended up having himself a sneaky good performance, scoring 20 points for the Vols.
Yves Pons put up a double-double tonight for Tennessee, scoring 10 points and grabbing 10 rebounds. The senior has been off and on most of the season, but tonight’s performance, especially around the basket was key for the Vols.
But once again it was Victor Bailey Jr. leading the charge for Tennessee. After scoring nine points in the first half, the veteran put up 12 in the 2nd half, as he continues to have clutch performances down the stretch. Bailey finished the game with 21 points and 3 assists.
This Tennessee team continues to show how hot and cold they can be, not just on a game-by-game basis, but during any stretch of a 40 minute night. We saw tonight that the freshman duo can close out a game, but the Vols are going to need that consistently over the course of an entire game. The Vols are still preaching consistency and still looking for it as well, as the regular season comes to a close.
Tennessee will travel to Auburn on Saturday, as they look to build upon this win. If they play like they did tonight during most of the game then it will be difficult on the Plains. But, if they can play like they did over the course of the last four minutes and close out an opponent, things might not looks so bad Saturday evening.
Only time will tell for this team.