This team wasn't supposed to do this. Not yet, and not like this. At the beginning of February, Tennessee sat at 10-12, and there were pieces, but not a picture. After today, Tennessee will at worst have a bye in the SEC Tournament, and - with a Kentucky win against Florida - will finish at #2 in the SEC.
Not bad for a team left for dead a year ago, is it?
I'm not even sure where to begin, to be honest. Watching the game, it felt like Vanderbilt kept coming - especially in the first half, when they answered an early Tennessee run with one of their own to go up 6. Then again, Tennessee promptly answered that run with a run of their own to go up 5. From there, Tennessee mostly kept Vanderbilt at bay, and how weird does that sentence look? This team, which got played off the court in Memorial Gym, kept Vanderbilt at bay. Vandy never got it closer than 3 after the under-16. That other shoe, the one that tells us this is just a fortunate coincidence and this team still needs work and this isn't Tennessee's year? It's hanging from a telephone wire outside TBA, and it's not coming down any time soon.
It came from places we expected: Cameron Tatum, providing clutch shooting all game and leading the team with 18 points; Trae Golden, 17 points, 4 assists, 8-8 FT shooting, no fouls after picking up 2 early in the first half; Jarnell Stokes, hosting a block party (5 on the day), 14 boards, and 11 points; Jeronne Maymon, 12 points and 7 boards. And you know what? That's okay. Those are the guys the Vols need now.
Does this make Tennessee a NCAA tournament team? Not yet. They still need wins during the SEC Tournament. But those wins start coming on Friday instead of Thursday, and at this point, anything can happen. Tennessee's 8-1 in their last 9, 9-2 in their last 11, and the second-hottest team in the conference. Why not?
It's tough to not give Tatum player of the game on Senior Day, and you know what? I'm not into trying to figure it out otherwise. He's the POG. Game notes after the jump.
- It's tough to understate how good Maymon and Stokes were inside; Festus Ezeli had a horrible game, Jeffery Taylor was a near non-factor, and Steve Tchiengang had to go beyond the arc to get any open shots. Just a stupendous shutdown game by Tennessee's interior duo; Vanderbilt needed good games from Ezeli and Taylor to have a shot, and neither did much of anything.
- It's amazing how hard the Vols were continuing to work on defense, even when the shots weren't falling. Tennessee went four minutes in the second half without scoring; Vanderbilt replied to that with a 4-0 run. That was it. Vandy opened 5-8 from beyond the arc. After that? 2-13.
- Look, the fouls are gonna be weird when Anthony Taylor is reffing a game. That's just how it is. But Vanderbilt going 8-16 from the line (and starting 0-7) and Tennessee going 23-29 ...well, that looks like the difference, doesn't it?