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Second-half surge key as No. 10 Tennessee beats Vanderbilt, 81-61

The Dores fought hard, but Tennessee was just too much in the end.

NCAA Basketball: Vanderbilt at Tennessee
Rick Barnes has the Vols at 10-1 on the year.
Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

The No. 10 Tennessee Volunteers (10-1, 4-1) barely survived the first half against the Vanderbilt Commodores (4-6, 0-4), but a strong second half eventually propelled the Vols to their 10th win of the year.

Keon Johnson led the team with 16 points and the Vols were able to rack up 20 points off 16 Vanderbilt turnovers. Overall, Tennessee finished the game 25-of-51 from the field (49.0%) including a 7-of-21 (33.3%) mark from downtown.

Jaden Springer was able to get the scoring started with a layup on Tennessee’s first possession to put Tennessee up, 2-0. The bucket was part of a Tennessee 7-0 run that saw the Vols make their first three shots of the game. Two Scottie Pippen Jr. free throws ended the run and Dylan Disu made his own shot a few possessions later to make it a 7-4 game with 15:43 left in the first half.

The game pretty much stayed as a one-score contest over the next few minutes. Neither offense looked sharp, evidenced by the combined 9-of-22 mark from the field that included a combined 2-of-9 from downtown. The Vols did have a 9-5 advantage on the boards, but Vanderbilt was able to score seven points off three Tennessee turnovers at this point, which played a big role in Tennessee’s 15-14 lead with 11:20 to go in the first half.

Tennessee’s inefficient offense really came back to haunt them team after two missed free throws from E.J. Anosike allowed a Disu layup to put the Dores in front, 16-15, for their first lead of the game. Vanderbilt’s lead eventually great to 19-15 thanks to a Trey Thomas 3, but Tennessee would eventually pull back out in front thanks to a key Vanderbilt turnover. Pippen lost control of the ball, which led to a 2-on-1 situation that ended with a Josiah-Jordan James dunk to put the Vols up, 22-21, with 5:09 left in the first half. Tennessee’s shooting had improved dramatically over the last 7:00-8:00, but it would need to continue it’s upward trend if the Vols wanted to start pulling away.

It wasn’t perfect or anything, but the Vols were able to do enough to increase their lead before the half. Johnson converted an and-1 opportunity in the final minute of the half, which pushed Tennessee’s to its biggest lead of the game, 34-24, with :46 seconds left. Vanderbilt had a chance to cut into the deficit, but Johnson made a great defensive play and stripped the ball away with :03.7 remaining. He couldn’t stay inbounds, but it was enough to derail Vanderbilt’s offense and the Vols would take their 10-point lead into halftime.

The Vols ended the first half at 10-of-23 from the floor after starting 4-of-11. They still weren’t getting done beyond the arc with a 2-of-9 showing, but a 7-3 advantage in the assist department, a 12-of-16 mark from the charity stripe, and a 16-10 advantage in the paint is what really helped key Tennessee’s first half lead.

Rick Barnes’ offense really started to improve toward the end of the half, so it would be crucial that the Vols recapture that same momentum to start the second half.

Both teams came out with some fire on offense, but it was Vanderbilt that was making the most noise. D.J. Harvey and Pippen combined for the team’s first 11 points on 3-of-3 shooting (including 2-of-2 from 3) in the first 2:20 of the second half to cut Tennessee’s lead to 39-35. The Dores were able to keep it around a two-possession game for a good bit afterward, but back-to-back-to-back 3s from Victory Bailey Jr., Springer, and Johnson left the Vols up, 53-39, with 12:04 left in the game. Springer even hit another 3 to make it four in a row on the Vols’ next possession to go up, 56-39. Tennessee was on a 17-4 run at this point.

Tennessee maintained a double-digit lead over the next few minutes of the game, but Vanderbilt was showing no signs of slowing down. 13 Commodore turnovers were proving to make the difference, though, as the Vols led, 60-48, with 7:51 left in the game.

Vanderbilt was never really able to threaten the Vols from that point on. Tennessee continued to outplay the Dores and would go on to win, 81-61, while moving to 10-1 on the season with a 4-1 record in SEC play.

The Vols are now set to take on the Florida Gators in the Stephen C. O’Connell Center on January 19. Tipoff is scheduled for Tuesday, January 19 at 7PM EST.

You can check out the final score and stats here.