Last year a season with a disappointing finish went to Nashville and wrote a new ending at Vanderbilt's expense. It was unlikely with the Commodores up 13 in the second half, but a suddenly hot Tennessee team battled their way back from the three point line and won the day. This time around, with a different coach and no Josh Richardson and no Kevin Punter and no two game win streak in league play all year?
Tennessee actually jumped out in front, following a record-setting 38 point beatdown of Auburn Wednesday night with a 30-15 lead on the Commodores Thursday afternoon. Vanderbilt shot 1 of 13 from the arc in the first half, and the Vols went to the break with a 34-22 lead. The theme of the second half was Tennessee answering Vanderbilt runs. When the Dores scored an early 7-0 run, Tennessee answered with three straight buckets, two from Detrick Mostella. When Vandy scratched it to six with 11:30 to play, Robert Hubbs hit a corner three off great ball movement to push it back to nine.
The Dores then hit an 8-0 run to close Tennessee's lead to one with still 8:38 to play. What followed was a sudden burst of offense: four straight scores on both ends to keep the Vols up one, a lead that held at two until the 4:18 mark when Joe Toye hit a three to finally give Vanderbilt the lead 57-56.
The story I'm sure the majority watching expected from there never manifested itself, though the Vols certainly didn't make it pretty. Detrick Mostella and Robert Hubbs both beat the shot clock with rushed attempts, but both went in. Shots like those have a way of making you feel like it's your day. When the Dores went back inside to Damian Jones the Vols fouled instead of giving up a dunk, and he missed the front end of a one and one. Up one with 1:40 to play, the Vols found Armani Moore alone beyond the three point line. It was his only attempt of the day. And he drilled it.
When Wade Baldwin missed a shot and Mostella was fouled on the rebound, making both free throws to put the Vols up 65-59 with with 56 seconds left, you could have assumed. Bad idea: Luke Kornet hit a three. The Vols milked the clock before Mostella missed, but Derek Reese grabbed the rebound with 13 seconds left, then he hit two free throws. Up 67-62, perhaps it's safe now? Nope: Fisher-Davis with a corner three to make it 67-65 with eight seconds left.
Mostella, whose name you're reading more than any other here, was fouled with six seconds left. He led all scorers today with 18 points, and as you can see had his hands on the ball in the game's most crucial moments. But he did miss the front end of this one-and-one. Good news: he got his own rebound! Bad news: he missed the front end again with 4.5 seconds left, and then what we thought was a tremendous play by Wade Baldwin ensued:
Vanderbilt was close, but for the second year in a row Tennessee is the victor.
From the Commodore perspective, this could be costly. Their RPI drops to 60 and the bubble could get tight. From Tennessee's perspective, you just have to shake your head and enjoy what is now Tennessee's first two game winning streak in league play. The Vols did not play Kyle Alexander, did not play Ray Kasongo, and rolled with seven players all 6'7" and under. Armani Moore had 15 points, 5 rebounds, and 3 assists. Admiral Schofield had a 12-7. Devon Baulkman had 6 points, 4 rebounds, and a career high 5 steals as Vandy turned it over 10 times in the first half. Hubbs had a 10-4 off the bench. And again, how about Detrick Mostella: 18 points, 6 rebounds, and 3 assists. This is great news for Tennessee's present and future.
So, Friday then?
LSU, who the Vols beat 16 with Keith Hornsby and without Kevin Punter, is next, and we get a whole 24 hours off this time! But regardless of outcome tomorrow, for the second year in a row the Vols have given themselves a great memory at the end of a hard year, and the chance to make another one tomorrow.
Go Big Orange.