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Tennessee vs Vanderbilt: Behind Williams’ big night, No. 1 Vols outlast Commodores in OT

Tennessee avoids repeat of history by holding off pesky Vanderbilt at Memorial Gymnasium.

NCAA Basketball: Tennessee at Vanderbilt Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

Sometimes, history can have a way of repeating itself.

Over a decade ago, then-No. 2 Tennessee beat top-ranked Memphis at FedEx Forum to earn their first No. 1 ranking in program history.

Two days later, the Vols were upset at Memorial Gymnasium at the hands of the Vanderbilt Commodores.

years later, Tennessee entered Memorial Gymnasium again, two days removed from being named the top-ranked team in the land, and having a mind to stay that way. Vanderbilt, on the other hand, had a mind to repeat the monumental upset they pulled off at home on Feb. 26, 2008 in Nashville.

But this Tennessee team wasn’t having it, despite Vanderbilt’s best efforts to do so.

The Vols (17-1, 7-0 SEC), coming off of a close call at home against Alabama on Saturday, were taken to overtime by Vanderbilt (9-9, 0-7 SEC), but prevailed in another nail-biter, 88-83.

NCAA Basketball: Tennessee at Vanderbilt Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

Tennessee scored off of the opening tip, a lay up from Grant Williams-the first of a career-high 43 points- before jumping out a 15-2 lead.

It look as if the Vols were about ride another dominant performance to victory, but Vanderbilt clawed their way back, even taking the lead late in the first half.
At the half, Tennessee held a narrow 38-37 advantage, and it looked as if the Vols would be in a fight for the final 20 minutes of action. The opening minutes of the second half, however, looked much like the first.

The Tennessee defense, which struggled against Alabama and in the first half versus Vanderbilt, held the Commodores scoreless for nearly three minutes, going on a 5-0 run at the start of the half.

But foul trouble and hot Vanderbilt shooting allowed the Commodores to right the ship and stave off a Tennessee run that would ultimately seal the deal.

With just over 11 minutes left in the game, Vanderbilt’s Aaron Nesmith hit a corner three to tie the game, 55-55 and breath new life into a sold out crowd at Memorial Gym.

NCAA Basketball: Tennessee at Vanderbilt Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

With under two minutes left, Vanderbilt took a six-point lead, but a flagrant one foul sent Williams to the line again, and he remained perfect (finished 16-of-16 on the night) to make it 72-76. On the ensuing possession, Williams came up big again to pull within two.

A Vanderbilt turnover on the other end gave the Vols back the ball, and they took advantage again, as Schofiled tied the game with a layup, 76-76 with 38 seconds on the clock.

After a Vanderbilt turnover gave Tennessee the ball with just over three seconds left, the Vols attempt at a game winning shot in regulation, a three from Williams, was blocked by the Commodores, effectively sending the game into overtime.

Fittingly, the extra five minutes of basketball was back-and-forth between the two.

Vanderbilt took an 82-81 lead at the 40 second mark, but Williams came back to score his 40th point on the night and was fouled in the process. Williams added his 21st straight free throws of the game to extend their lead, 84-82.

NCAA Basketball: Tennessee at Vanderbilt Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

In turn, Vanderbilt made just one-of-two and were forced to foul, sending Williams back to the line to make his 22nd and 23rd consecutive shots, and allowing Tennessee virtually put the game away. Disaster averted.

Williams came up huge, leading the Vols with 43-points, including an impressive performance at the free throw line where he finished 23-of-23.

For Vanderbilt, Aaron Nesmith had a team-high 23-points and was 4-of-7 from beyond the arc.

Tennessee will return to Knoxville unscathed as they get set for an SEC/Big 12 Challenge showdown with West Virginia at Thompson-Boling Arena on Saturday.