Tennessee escapes Memorial with a 78-69 win over Commodores

Despite a strong fight from the Commodores, Tennessee's Rennia Davis exploded in the second half to lead the Volunteers to a win.

Koi+Love+goes+up+for+three+point+jump+shot+against+UConn+earlier+this+season.

Emery Little

Koi Love goes up for three point jump shot against UConn earlier this season.

Justin Hershey, Deputy Sports Editor

Despite the Commodores getting forward Autumn Newby back from injury, the Tennessee Volunteers (17-4) were too much for the Vanderbilt Commodores (12-9) to handle as they escaped with a 78-69 win Thursday night in Nashville. Having Newby back helped keep Vanderbilt in the game, but the Commodores did not have quite enough to pull the upset.

“It was big for us, just having her presence on the floor. She is our glue. She is our anchor, our leader…it was big having her back on the floor,” head coach Stephanie White said after the game.

In a classy gesture from Vanderbilt, the game was preceded by an eight-second moment of silence for Kobe Bryant and those lost in a helicopter crash this past weekend, a tragedy that has affected basketball fans everywhere.

After losing the first quarter 32-7 to Alabama last time out, head Coach Stephanie White put an emphasis on opening this game with Tennessee well. And on Thursday, the Commodores were able to do just that. Thanks to five early steals and layups from four of five starters, Vanderbilt opened this game with great energy on the defensive end.

Freshman Koi Love remained aggressive and was able to get to the rim at will early on. She recorded six quick points en route to her 16 on the night and continued to play mature beyond her years.

Guard Jordyn Cambridge was a force on defense early, showing why she leads the SEC in steals per game. She converted two intercepted Tennessee passes into layups and added two mid range shots to total eight points in the first quarter.

The Volunteers continued to look sluggish late in the first as they missed easy layups and turned the ball over six times, leading to a six point deficit at the end of the quarter.

Even with the plethora of early turnovers, Tennessee’s shooting kept them in the game. They shot 60 percent in the first half and eventually mounted a 16-2 run to claim the lead midway through the second.

The Volunteers began playing a 2-3 zone in the second quarter, and the Commodores struggled to adjust. Thanks to difficult and quick shots, the Commodores allowed Tennessee to gain a huge momentum swing that turned their once six point lead into a four point deficit.

Stephanie White’s team continues to struggle stopping opponents runs, and it was no different tonight. Throughout the Commodores’ losing streak, each game has consisted of one quarter so lopsided that recovery is near impossible. Tonight, that quarter appeared to be the second.

A gutsy 7-0 stretch helped the Commodores get back in the game late in the second quarter. Even with the run, however, Vanderbilt found themselves down five at halftime following a 20 to 9 quarter.

“In the SEC, when you are playing top 25 teams night in and night out, you can’t have lulls. And we had an offensive lull in the second quarter and transition defense lulls in the second half,” head coach Stephanie White said.

The Volunteers scoring came from a number of sources, but forward Rae Burrell scored nine first half points and was certainly a catalyst all night long for Tennessee.

The second half started slowly with both teams missing shots and forcing turnovers. Guard Chelsie Hall was very active on defense, collecting a steal and converting on a floater at the other end just two possessions later.

Vanderbilt continued to chip away, finally cutting the Volunteer lead to just one at the first media timeout of the third quarter. By forcing turnovers and working the ball inside, the Commodores were able to stay competitive with the larger Tennessee squad.

The Commodores began to have great success by working the ball into the paint against Tennessee’s stingy 2-3 zone. After a bucket from forward Koi Love, guard Kiara Pearl nailed a three to give the Commodores a two point advantage.

But the Vols struck back with a 7-0 run that helped them regain a four point lead at the end of the third quarter. It was led by buckets from the SEC’s fourth leading scorer, forward Rennia Davis, who scored nine in the quarter and 22 in the game.

Vols guard Jazmine Massengill opened the fourth quarter with a strong bucket, but Koi Love was able to answer right back with a tough finish and three point play. Tennessee continued to attack the rim, and the Commodores struggled to find an answer for their size and athleticism. 

A run of two easy finishes and a pair of free throws from Rennia Davis pushed the Tennessee lead to nine early on in the final frame. Kiara Pearl did her best to keep the Commodores in the game with a smooth floater followed up by a swished three pointer, but it just was not to be for Vanderbilt.

The Commodores were unable to generate any sort of run late in the game, and Tennessee’s lead continued to hover around ten for most of the fourth quarter. Vanderbilt continued to play hard, but Rennia Davis scored multiple buckets down the stretch to put this one away for the Volunteers.

“She hits tough shots, contested shots. She makes plays, she is a playmaker and she plays at a really good pace,” Stephanie White said.

Tennessee shot a strong 52 percent in this contest and if not for 17 turnovers, they could have easily escaped Memorial more comfortably. They had a balanced scoring attack and relied on their size advantage to score 14 second chance points.

After Vanderbilt beat the Vols last season in Knoxville, the Volunteers came to Nashville seeking revenge, and that is what they got. But Stephanie White is excited that the Vanderbilt-Tennessee rivalry is back.

“We want to take pride in our home state. This game has traditionally been a great rivalry and I think its fun for fans in the state of Tennessee,” White said.

Although Vanderbilt has lost five games in a row, the road will get a bit easier from here, as the team is finally getting healthy. Autumn Newby was key to helping the Commodores stay in the game against Tennessee, and with games against familiar opponents on the horizon, this team will have a good chance to get back on track. Still, in the SEC, nothing comes easy and this team knows that.

“We have to respect everyone and fear no one. We have had two letdowns this month in games we thought we could have won, and we can’t do that,” White said.

The Commodores will try to snap their five game losing streak on Sunday against the Auburn Tigers, a team they beat by 22 just four weeks ago.