NASHVILLE, Tenn. — For Vanderbilt basketball, less apparently does mean more.
Down to only seven scholarship players, the Commodores held off visiting Tennessee Wednesday night for a 64-60 win in front of 10,733 at Memorial Gym.
It was the fourth victory in a row for Vanderbilt (13-8, 5-4) after a 1-4 start in Southeastern Conference play. It also snapped the Commodores’ three-game losing streak to their instate rival.
Commodores senior forward Rod Odom, who scored a career-high 26 points, finished the game just like he started it. After hitting his first six shots, he also made his last field goal attempt of the game, this one a crucial 3-pointer with 46 seconds remaining that gave Vanderbilt an insurmountable six-point cushion.
Odom would then make two free throws with 3.4 seconds to play to provide the final margin of victory .
"Basketball is a game of runs," said Odom, whose Commodores led by 10 points at halftime and by as many as a dozen early in the second half. "What our coaches told us, prepare for their runs, prepare for our runs. That’s part of the game. So, we knew it was coming."
Almost adding insult to injury with the shortened roster, Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings was unsure if senior point guard Kyle Fuller, who spent much of the day at the school’s medical clinic, would be able to play because of an illness.
Instead, Fuller played 38 minutes, scored 12 points and dished out 10 assists. He constantly forced the offensive tempo of the game by pushing the ball up the floor quickly and attacking the basket.
"We weren’t sure if (Fuller) was going to play," Stallings said with a grin. "He was sick, and he needs to get sick more often because that was an incredible performance by him, especially under the circumstances of how he was feeling."
After digging a hole early in the second half, the Volunteers (14-8, 5-4) steadily chipped away at Vanderbilt’s lead. Tennessee would eventually tie the game at 53-53 with just under 7 minutes to play.
"I thought Vanderbilt did a good job setting the tone and playing with a lot of energy," said Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin, whose team had its only lead 6 minutes into the game. "They got the crowd into the game. They competed on both ends of the floor."
Senior guard Jordan McRae led the Volunteers (14-8, 5-4) with 16 points. Junior forward Jarnell Stokes had 11 points and a game-high 14 rebounds for his 13th double-double of the season and 31st of his career, most among active SEC players.
Odom and freshman center Damian Jones each picked up their fourth fouls within 21 seconds of each other with around 8 minutes to play. And when McRae nailed a 3-pointer just moments later, the Volunteers had cut the lead to 53-51 with 7:04 to play.
"I thought we competed better in the second half with our energy and our plays," Martin said. "We got where we needed to be and did a great job rebounding."
Vols senior forward Jeronne Maymonn then tied the game at 53-all, forcing Stallings to return Odom and Jones to the lineup with just over 6 minutes to play. Their return re-energized the Commodores, who surged back to a 59-54 lead on a 6-1 run that was culminated by a thunderous slam dunk by Jones off an alley-oop pass from junior forward James Siakam.
"We leaked oil there at the end," Stallings said of not holding onto the double-digit lead in the second half. "We didn’t handle the end of the game so well, and that’s something we’ve been doing well.
"But aside from that, I was just tickled pink with how our guys played and how hard they played."
During one stretch midway through the first half, Odom scored 11 straight points for the Commodores, including knocking down three-straight 3-pointers. One of them was a contested fall-away shot from well beyond the arc as the shot clock expired.
Fuller then got into the act with consecutive baskets that were followed by a field goal by Odom on a mid-range jump shot. The 14-4 run gave Vanderbilt a 23-15 lead with 8:44 remaining in the first half.
The Volunteers closed within 30-26 on consecutive 3-pointers by senior guard Antonio Barton and junior guard Josh Richardson. But Vanderbilt answered with a 6-0 run to close the first half for a 36-26 lead at intermission, its biggest of the first half.
The main reason the Commodores settled into the 10-point bulge at halftime was making 15-of-25 shots for 60 percent, including 4-of-8 on 3-point tries. Odom scored 16 points in the first half.
Tennessee, meanwhile, made only 10-of-25 shots for 40 percent in the first half, including going 4-of-11 beyond the 3-point stripe.
For the game, Vanderbilt shot 52.2 percent from the field, including hitting 6-of-15 on 3-point attempts. Tennessee finished shooting a paltry 37.7 percent from the field, but did hold a commanding 41-26 edge in rebounding.
"I couldn’t be any more proud of them," Stallings said of his team. " … Tennessee has a really, really, really good team. I think they are a team that can go a long way.
"We are very happy to beat a team of that caliber."