Tennessee – 65
Vanderbilt – 66
NASHVLLE, Tenn. – The Vols traveled to the mid-state Wednesday night to take on the rival Commodores of Vanderbilt. Tennessee, in desperate need of a “get-right” game, would have to do so against a Vandy team looking to avoid a season sweep coming off a win over Ole Miss. The Vols would have to find their rhythm on offense and not let that distract them from playing their normal brand of nation-leading defense.
The defensive intensity was there early for The Vols, but the offense still looked out of sorts. To make matters worse for Tennessee, Vanderbilt was making the tough shots that the Volunteer defense was making them shoot. Would it be sustainable? It seemed so as Vanderbilt hit their fourth three-pointer at 11:15. However, due to some life given to The Vols offense by Tyreke Key and Olivier Nkamhoua the game had become a back-and-forth affair that Tennessee led 23-18 midway through the first half. It seemed like Tennessee was starting to establish some control until Vanderbilt’s Liam Robinson hit his third three of the night having only six all season followed by another three from Colin Smith put Vandy at 6-10 on the night and up one at the scoreboard. With four minutes to go The Commodores were up 28-25 looking to take a lead into the break. Key continued to play well for Tennessee as he hit his second three of the night to tie it at 30 with 2:34 to play. Thanks to Key’s ten points off the bench Tennessee would take a 34-32 lead to the locker room.
The biggest takeaways from the first half included Tennessee shooting 50% from the field which is a considerable improvement on their last two outings shooting 27%. Vanderbilt had Liam Robbins with 11 points and Tyrin Lawrence with 12, but no other scorer had more than four. In the second half, could Tennessee continue to fix their offensive struggles, and could Vandy sustain their own offensive production? The answers would decide the final score.
The start of the second half was a frustrating one for Tennessee as Zeigler committed his third foul early and would have to take a seat, some physical play went uncalled, The Vols took some ill-advised shots, and Vandy was able to take the lead. However, by the 14-minute mark Tennessee was able to settle in and go on a 10-2 run. Vanderbilt would not go quietly as they hit back-to-back threes for their seventh and eighth of the game and eventually took a three-point lead with 11:30 to play; all of this without Robbins who had to sit with three fouls around the same time as Zeigler. The Halftime questions were being answered by both teams as Tennessee continued to hang around that 50% shooting percentage, but The Vols would need their leaders to step up as Josiah Jordan-James was 1-7 and Vescovi was 2-7. A three from Zeigler, who had reentered the game, put Tennessee up by one with 9:50 to go and it was apparent that the final nine was going to be a hard fought battle in this rivalry in which Tennessee had won 11 straight.
With five minutes to go, Vanderbilt had taken a 58-55 lead on a 6-0 run with a 4:30 scoring drought for The Vols before Vescovi was able to break through with five points to tie the game at 60 with 3:36 to play. With 1:37 to play Vescovi was able to tie it again with another three and it was 63-63. Nkamhoua hit a jumper to put Tennessee up 65-63 with 50 seconds to play, putting the pressure on Vanderbilt to answer. After a scramble under the basket a long rebound gathered by Zeigler forced The Commodores to foul with just 28 seconds left in the game. Vanderbilt, with still four fouls to give, would have to foul quickly each time to preserve the precious seconds, while Tennessee would have to successfully execute multiple inbound plays. Philips found himself open and dribbled down the floor taking the clock down to ten seconds but chose not to take the free layup, another inbounds and foul down to eight and a half seconds, and another down to eight before Vescovi was sent to the line for just the third free throw of the game for Tennessee. A 1-and-1 for Vescovi to try to seal a win, and he missed the front end. Vanderbilt secured the rebound and called a timeout with four seconds to go and a chance to tie or win. The inbounds was made, a drive, a kick, three for the win from Tyrin Lawrence… good. Vandy wins at the buzzer 66-65
What ended up being a costly mistake by Philips to not take the free layup will surely end up being a teaching moment for Rick Barnes with his talented freshman.
Tyrin Lawrence led all scorers with 19 points. Tyreke Key led Tennessee with 14. Tobe Awaka and Liam Robbins tied for the rebounding lead with nine each. Zakai Zeigler led all players with seven assists, while Ezra Manjon led Vanderbilt with five.
This is what Tennessee Head Coach, Rick Barnes, had to say post-game via Ben McKee of Govols247 on Twitter:
Rick Barnes said he told Julian Phillips that he has to dunk the basketball when he has a wide open shot like he had in the final seconds.
— Ben McKee (@benmckee14) February 9, 2023
Rick Barnes: The one thing we said was we can’t give up a three-point shot. Thought they would go downhill or give it to Liam (Robbins), so we couldn’t allow a three under any circumstance. And we did. They made it. Give them credit.
— Ben McKee (@benmckee14) February 9, 2023
Tennessee’s next game is against Missouri in Knoxville at 5:00pm on Saturday.