Defense lifts Vanderbilt to 67-56 victory at Tennessee
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Vanderbilt’s rejuvenated defense has the Commodores poised to make a late-season surge.
Luke Kornet had 13 points, 11 rebounds and seven blocks Wednesday as Vanderbilt never trailed in a 67-56 victory over Tennessee.
Five weeks after shooting a season-high 58.6 percent in an 87-75 triumph at Vanderbilt, Tennessee had its lowest point total and worst field-goal percentage (.290) of the season in the rematch.
”I really think our guys were extra motivated with losing the first game in our place, wanting to come back and show we’re a much better team and playing at a much higher level than we were earlier in the year,” Vanderbilt coach Bryce Drew said.
Vanderbilt (15-13, 8-7 SEC) has won at Tennessee (15-13, 7-8) each of the last three years. The last time Vanderbilt beat Tennessee in Knoxville three straight times was from 1955-57.
Although the Commodores entered Wednesday ranked 12th out of 14 SEC teams in field-goal percentage defense, they’ve been stingier lately. Vanderbilt held South Carolina to one basket over the final 9 1/2 minutes of a 71-62 victory over the Gamecocks on Saturday.
Vanderbilt’s last three opponents have shot 7 of 42 from 3-point range. Tennessee was 3 of 17 from beyond the arc.
”I think for us to be able to go out and kind of make that stance we did defensively today, it’s something that we can take pride in, knowing we’ve definitely become a better team since we played them the first time,” Kornet said.
Both teams entered the night seeking late-season runs that could boost their NCAA Tournament credentials. Vanderbilt was 49th and Tennessee 52nd in the RPI at the start of the day.
But on a night when both teams had much at stake, Tennessee came out flat. The Vols made one basket in the first nine minutes of the game.
”I’m baffled and frustrated by it,” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said of the slow start. ”This time of year, you can’t come out at home and play like that. … I just can’t believe that we wouldn’t be more focused. You’ve got to give Vanderbilt credit because they understand what this time of year’s about obviously, and we don’t.”
After trailing by as many as 15 points, Tennessee got to within 44-43 on a pair of Grant Williams free throws with 6:01 left. Vanderbilt scored on its next five possessions to get the margin back up to nine, and the Commodores stayed ahead by at least five the rest of the way.
Jeff Roberson had 15 points and eight rebounds for Vanderbilt. Matthew Fisher-Davis scored 13, Nolan Cressler had 11 and Riley LaChance added 10.
Robert Hubbs III scored 16 to lead Tennessee, while Williams and Admiral Schofield added 11 apiece.
Tennessee was playing without usual starting guard Jordan Bowden due to an illness. Shembari Phillips started in his place and scored six points while shooting just 2 of 13.
Vanderbilt: This was an important win for the Commodores, whose remaining schedule affords them the opportunity for victories that could impress the NCAA Tournament selection committee. Vanderbilt visits No. 11 Kentucky and hosts No. 13 Florida in its final two regular-season games.
Tennessee: Jordan Bone had returned to his hometown and scored 23 in Tennessee’s victory at Vanderbilt, but he wasn’t nearly as effective in the rematch. Bone had two points, one assist and two turnovers in just 13 minutes.
Tennessee and Vanderbilt combined for 42 missed shots in the first half, yet each team had only one offensive rebound. Tennessee had 16 offensive rebounds in the second half to claw back into the game. … Vanderbilt committed just five turnovers all night.
”We’ve got to play with fire, and we just didn’t play with fire,” Schofield said. ”That’s the biggest thing about us. We’ve got to come out and we’ve got to play with energy and we’ve got to play with a chip on our shoulder. We didn’t come out with that chip tonight.”
Vanderbilt: Hosts Mississippi State on Saturday.
Tennessee: Visits South Carolina on Saturday.
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