KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Jarnell Stokes scored 19 points and pulled down 11 rebounds Tuesday as Tennessee defeated Vanderbilt 58-57 for its second consecutive one-point victory.
Vanderbilt guard Kedren Johnson had a chance to win the game for Vanderbilt as he drove to the basket in the closing seconds, but his shot went off the backboard and rolled off the front end of the rim. Kevin Bright grabbed the offensive board but missed the potential game-winner.
Tennessee was coming off a 54-53 victory Saturday over Alabama. In that game, the opposing team also had a chance to win the game in the final seconds.
Stokes recorded his third double-double in his last four games for the Volunteers, who won despite missing the front end of two one-and-one opportunities in the final minute.
Skylar McBee added 10 points for Tennessee (11-8, 3-4 Southeastern Conference). Johnson led Vanderbilt (8-11, 2-5) with 14 points, all in the second half. Vanderbilt’s Josh Henderson matched a career high with 13 points.
The game shaped up as a matchup between Tennessee’s inside strength and Vanderbilt’s 3-point attack. But it started out as an utter mismatch.
Stokes spent the first five minutes of the game abusing a Vanderbilt team with the SEC’s worst rebound margin. Stokes, who was coming off an 18-rebound performance against Alabama, controlled both ends of the floor as the Vols took an early 12-0 lead.
Stokes, a 6-foot-8, 270-pound sophomore, was 45 pounds heavier than anyone in Vanderbilt’s starting lineup. He used his brute strength to dominate the Commodores in the early going. He scored or assisted on every Tennessee basket as the Vols built their 12-0 advantage. Stokes had seven points, five rebounds, two assists and a steal in the first five minutes of the game.
Vanderbilt didn’t make a basket in the first eight minutes of action and eventually fell behind 19-5, but the Commodores wouldn’t disappear. They gradually chipped away at the lead and finally slowed down Stokes when Henderson came off the bench to guard him.
Henderson entered the game averaging just 13.2 minutes and 2.7 points in SEC competition, but the 6-11 center played 26 minutes Tuesday and helped the Commodores rally.
Vanderbilt went on an 18-3 run and turned a 19-5 deficit into a 23-22 lead on Kyle Fuller’s three-point play with 2:36 left in the half. Tennessee regained the lead 34 seconds later on a Stokes putback and led 27-23 at halftime.
Tennessee again built a double-digit lead early in the second half, only to have Vanderbilt rally again.
Johnson, who had been leading Vanderbilt with 14.9 points per game this season, played just six minutes and didn’t score in the first half after picking up two early fouls. But he came up big in the second half and sparked an 11-0 run that culminated with a Sheldon Jeter 3-pointer that tied the score at 52 with six minutes left.
Stokes put Tennessee back ahead for good by converting a three-point play with 4:14 after receiving a pass from walk-on guard Brandon Lopez, who hadn’t played at all in the Vols’ last five games. Lopez was pressed into duty after Trae Golden got injured late in the first half. Golden spent the entire second half on the end of the bench with his right leg bandaged.
A pair of Jordan McRae free throws extended Tennessee’s lead to 57-52 with 3:55 left, but the Commodores battled back again and eventually made it a one-point game when James Siakam got a putback off a missed free throw with 29 seconds left.
Tennessee’s free-throw woes gave Vanderbilt a chance to complete its improbable comeback. The Vols went 1 of 4 from the line in the final minute, with Stokes and McRae missing the front end of one-and-one opportunities.
For the second straight game, a Tennessee opponent had a chance to steal the win in the final seconds.