KNOXVILLE – This time the energy was there.
There wasn’t a shortage of that at a rocking Thompson-Boling Arena on Saturday but, again, for Vanderbilt there was a lack of execution.
And — again — it cost the Commodores. Despite a 17-point first-half lead, Vanderbilt couldn’t hang on against a gritty Tennessee squad and fell 67-64 in front of a deafening crowd of 21,198.
It was the second straight road loss for the Commodores, who blew a 14-point second-half advantage to South Carolina last week. In that contest, however, Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said he didn’t like his team’s “look” from the beginning. Against Tennessee, he didn’t believe that was an issue as the Commodores led by 10 at halftime and were up 46-35 with 12:17 to go.
“We had a great look in this game,” Stallings said. “We just didn’t finish the job and that is really disappointing. It is becoming a little bit of a common theme.”
Similar to the South Carolina game, a failure to attack the glass late doomed the Commodores.
Tennessee grabbed 12 of its 19 offensive rebounds in the second half for 15 second-chance points after halftime. Plus, Vanderbilt committed 21 turnovers, which allowed Tennessee to get some easy transition baskets. That proved to be a big difference from the first half, when the Volunteers made just seven field goals and were 20 percent from the field – both Vanderbilt opponent lows in a first half this season.
“If you don’t box out, if you don’t take care of the ball you are definitely going to lose,” Vanderbilt guard Brad Tinsley said.
Tennessee (11-6, 1-2 Southeastern Conference) took just its third lead of the game when Tobias Harris scored on a layup for a 65-64 advantage with 1:01 left.
That set up a crazy finish as Vanderbilt (12-4, 1-2) had a chance to take the lead with less than a minute left. Jeffery Taylor stumbled over a defender’s foot as he was driving and slid at least 10 feet across the floor. But no whistle was blown for a foul or a travel and the ball eventually ended up in the hands of 3-point threat John Jenkins. He never got a shot off as he stepped out of bounds in front of the Commodores bench with 40 seconds to go.
Tennessee let the clock wind down to 11 seconds before Melvin Goins had two jumpers miss, with the second being blocked by Festus Ezeli. Goins out-ran Ezeli to the corner of the court to grab the loose ball and, as he was falling out of bounds, he threw it off Tinsley. It bounced into the hands of Brian Williams and Tennessee wasted a few more seconds before Vanderbilt could foul.
Harris made two free throws with 2.7 seconds left for a three-point lead. After a timeout, Tinsley’s inbounds bass for Steve Tchiengang was intercepted by Williams to end the game.
“We had a couple of bad breaks at the end,” Stallings said. “Not much you can do about it.”
Jenkins led all scorers with 21 points. Taylor added 14 and Tinsley added 12. For Tennessee, Harris finished with 15 and Cameron Tatum had 12.
Tennessee guard Scotty Hopson provided a lift in the second half as he finished with 16 points. After shooting 1-of-8 in the first half for just two points, he pulled the Volunteers (11-6, 1-2 Southeastern Conference) back into it with 14 second-half points. His transition jumper after a Vanderbilt turnover with 11:42 cut the score to 46-41 and capped off a 9-3 run.
“He made some plays,” Stallings said. “There were times we broke down or somebody got caught in transition where he really had no resistance.”
And Vanderbilt couldn’t resist falling into the same trap as last week. The Commodores are now 1-3 in true road games — contests not played at neutral sites – and have lost two of their last three.
“I don’t know what happened there,” Jenkins said. “I can’t explain it right now. It just hurts.”
• Ezeli finished with six blocks, which matched his career-high. The 6-foot-11, 255-pound junior played 28 minutes and scored nine points on 2-of-5 shooting and 5-of-8 from the free-throw line. However, when he did to go to the bench he had a wrap on his left knee as it appeared he was still being bothered by tendonitis that has crept in the last couple games.
“He asked me to come out pretty early in the game,” Stallings said. “So I am assuming it is [still hurting].”
• It was the first win for Tennessee associate head coach Tony Jones, who is filling in for head coach Bruce Pearl, who is serving an eight-game suspension by the SEC for violating NCAA recruiting rules. It was Jones' third game at the helm. The first were losses to Florida and Arkansas.
The sense of urgency was evident in the second half for the Vols, who scored 47 points after the break – the most in a second half against Vanderbilt this season.
“We understood what we had to do,” Tatum said. “We understood that we had to get this win. We had to keep fighting. There is no way we can quit just because we got down. We have to take that same mentality from the jumpstreet, from the beginning of the first half to the end of the second half to the end of the season.”
• Lance Goulbourne, who has started the last four games in place of the injured Andre Walker (ankle), did not have one of his better performances. The junior forward picked up his fourth foul with more than 11 minutes remaining, committed four turnovers and was held scoreless for the first time all season.