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Tennessee puts Vanderbilt away in the second half, wins 77-68

The Vols were tested, but responded nicely.

NCAA Basketball: Vanderbilt at Tennessee Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

Back to back blowout wins — Tennessee was riding high coming into tonight’s matchup against Vanderbilt. The Volunteers crushed South Carolina and Mississippi State, locking in on both ends of the floor. Those efforts moved them up to No. 5 in the country in the latest AP poll.

However, they were in for a fight tonight against Vanderbilt.

Tennessee appeared to find themselves midway through the first half. The Vols pushed out to a nine point lead, and you got the sense that they were ready to clamp down and take control. That didn’t happen though, as Noah Shelby’s shooting brough the ‘Dores right back.

Shelby was 3-4 from deep in the first half, powering Vandy’s comeback. A 24-15 lead evaporated for Tennessee, and the Commodores were suddenly matching the Vols on the offensive end.

Myles Stute drilled a three, then Jordan Wright connected on a coast to coast layup to end the half. Suddenly, Vanderbilt led at the halftime break — their first lead of the night.

Liam Robbins, Vandy’s seven-footer, was also doing damage. 11 first half points in just seven minutes fueled their early efforts.

Vandy’s 39-37 lead at the halftime break didn’t last long. Julian Phillips was aggressive on the offensive end, and Tyreke Key drilled a three to quickly establish a Tennessee lead once again. A quick 9-0 run opened the half, and a sleepy Tennessee team was suddenly alive and looking like themselves again.

Zakai Zeigler nailed a three, and Nkamhoua drew a foul and hit two free throws. Just like that, the Volunteers had a ten point lead, which was their biggest of the night at that point. It was an impressive response from Tennessee, who put the game away from there.

Noah Shelby missed his next three attempts from three, while Tennessee kept finding buckets on the offensive end. A close game suddenly turned into a 14 point contest, and Jerry Stackhouse’s team was quickly running out of steam.

Nkamhoua continued his work in the paint, and Vescovi drilled another three. This one was over. Tennessee overcame some first half drama to win, 77-68.

Vescovi and Phillips led the way with 15 points each. Both also grabbed six rebounds and added three assists. Josiah handled 16 minutes as he continues to work back to full strength.

Tennessee shot 48 percent from the floor, while holding Vanderbilt to 37. The Commodores started hot from deep, but cooled off in a big way, finishing just 6-27.

Barnes got some teaching tape out of this one — a little bit of a back to earth moment for a Tennessee team that remains white hot. The Volunteers host Kentucky on Saturday, so you know Barnes will be working overtime to get their attention — no matter how bad Kentucky might be this year.

Tip-off is set for noon ET on Saturday.