Tennessee stood in and took Vanderbilt’s best shot in the first half, but the fifth-ranked Volunteers eventually figured things out. The Commodores took a lead into the locker room after a strong close to the half. Tennessee responded well, however, coming out and taking control of the game in the opening minutes of the second.
Julian Phillips scored 15 points, bumping up the aggression on the offensive end a notch. Santiago Vescovi is starting to hit some shots from deep, also scoring 15 points. Tennessee clamped down on the defensive end in the second half, holding Vandy to 33 percent shooting overall, including just 1-14 from deep.
“The start of the first half, I think you have to give a lot of credit to Vandy,” Rick Barnes said after the game. “They got down, they didn’t flinch either. Every time I’ve coached against Coach Stackhouse, their teams stay in it. They’re not going to quit. Honestly they’ve got a lot of his personality, where they’re going to fight you every step they can and will.”
The Volunteers came in to this one white hot, demolishing both Mississippi State and South Carolina. They already have a win over Kansas, and nearly knocked of Arizona on the road.
Vanderbilt head coach Jerry Stackhouse knows all about Tennessee. He has yet to beat Rick Barnes during his time in Nashville, currently a part of an 11 game losing streak to the Volunteers.
“I think we competed all night,” Vandy head coach Jerry Stackhouse said. “Had some opportunities, but when you’re playing a team that, in my mind, is the best team in the SEC right now—they’re playing the best basketball, they’re defending at a super-high level, they’re making shots, they’re playing inside-out and doing all the things that great basketball teams do. I thought we competed, but in this type of environment, coming in to their place, you got to have more performances than we had tonight.”
Tennessee has started 4-0 in SEC play, appearing to be on a collision course with No. 4 Alabama. Arkansas may also have something to say about that battle when it’s all said and done.
Per KenPom, Tennessee remains as the top rated defense in the country. They’re rising up the offensive rankings too, up to 28th as of Wednesday. Making matters more interesting for Tennessee is the status of Josiah-Jordan James, who still is on a pitch count as he returns to the floor. If the Volunteers can ever get him back to 100 percent, what a massive boost that would be.
Tennessee’s march towards an SEC title continues on Saturday, where they’ll host Kentucky (12 p.m. ET, ESPN).