The night started off terribly for the Vanderbilt Commodores (6-13, 2-11) once the news broke that the trio of Clevon Brown, Dylan Disu and Scotty Pippen Jr. would miss the game. The declaration was a surprising one as it was announced just 30 minutes before opening tip. Per head coach Jerry Stackhouse, Disu’s and Pippen’s absences were injury-related.
But despite the absence of the team’s top two players, Vanderbilt fought tough and was down just four points with under three minutes left in the game. No. 25 Tennessee (16-6, 9-6) received some clutch play from Keon Johnson and Jaden Springer down the line to help close out the game, but make no mistake: This was not an easy win.
Victor Bailey Jr. led the team in scoring with 21 points on 7-of-14 shooting, but Springer was a close second with 20 points of his own. As a whole, Tennessee shot 45% from the floor, including a 6-of-19 mark from downtown while the Dores shot 39% from the field and 39% from 3.
John Fulkerson was able to get the scoring started after a few sloppy possessions, giving the Vols a 2-0 lead within the first two minutes of the game. Keon Johnson was able to hit 1-of-2 free throws a few possessions later, but a Braelee Albert 3-pointer tied the game up at three points apiece. Jordan Wright knocked down a free throw a couple of possessions later to give Vanderbilt a 4-3 lead, but Jaden Springer put the Vols up, 5-4, with a jumper and then an incredible offensive rebound/dunk by Yves Pons hlped the Vols increase their lead to, 7-4, with 15:27 left in the first half.
But the Commodores were playing tough out of the gates. They scored five straight points after Pons’ dunk to retake the lead at 9-7. The Vols offense came to life soon afterward, however, and went on a 10-0 run that saw them hit three straight shots before a Trey Thomas 3 ended the run and made it a 17-12 game.
Vanderbilt was able to pull within two, but extremely sloppy basketball on both sides of the court kept the score at 17-15 for a good while. Tennessee had four turnovers in a 4:20 span, Vanderbilt had three in a 3:27 span, the Vols were on a 4:37 scoring drought and had missed five straight shots, and Vandy had gone over three minutes without scoring before a second-chance dunk by Ejike Obinna made it a 17-17 game. Thomas drained his third shot from downtown a couple of possessions later and Vanderbilt was able to pull out to 20-17 thanks to the 11-0 run.
Springer finally ended the misery with a layup, but Tennessee’s nine turnovers had them down, 20-19, with 6:28 left in the first half. It looked like the same dysfunctional offense from the Kentucky game traveled with the Vols to Nashville. The Vols started off 6-of-12 from the field but were just 1-of-7 since.
Good news came in the form of Pons after he scored four straight points to put the Vols up, 23-20. Another bucket —this time from Springer— set the Vols on an 8-0 run. It was the opposite for Vanderbilt, though, evidenced by a 3:39 scoring drought with 3:05 to go in the first half. Tennessee would go on to close the half with a 32-22 lead, its largest lead of the game thus far.
The Vols lead grew to 17 as Tennessee led, 39-22, with 16:58 left in the game. Vanderbilt continue to fight back, however, and was able to cut the Vols’ lead down even further. The Commodores made 6-of-7 shots to make it a 48-39 game with 12:08 to go.
Vandy kept it at a seven-point game, but was running out of time with 7:57 left in the game. The defense would have to settle down and get a couple of stops if the doors wanted a chance to win the game. All Tennessee needed was to continue to push the pace on offense and everything should be fine.
Both teams hit a slump soon afterward. Vanderbilt went over three minutes again without points and the Vols missed five straight shots before a Josiah Jordan-James layup made it a 56-47 game. Thomas drained another 3 on the subsequent possession and all of a sudden, it was a two-score game at 56-50. Vanderbilt was killing it from downtown in the second half, hitting 8-of-14 shot attempts.
Things became really scary for the Vols soon afterward. Maxwell Evans had a Sportscenter-type dunk on Pons and had a shot to make it a one-score game, but couldn’t convert the and-1 opportunity. Nevertheless, Tennessee led, 56-52, with 4:28 left in the game.
Vanderbilt had plenty of chances to make the score even tighter, but it couldn’t capitalize on the opportunities. Clutch buckets on back-to-back possessions by Johnson and Springer pushed Tennessee’s lead to 60-52, with 2:31 to go and before the Dores could blink, they were down 66-54 with :50 left to pull off the miracle comeback.
Tennessee would go on to win, 70-58.
The Vols now travel to Auburn, Alabama to take on the Tigers in Auburn Arena for their next game. Tipoff is scheduled for Saturday, February 27 at 12PM EST.
You can check out the final score and stats here.