Vanderbilt defense struggles yet again in loss to Tennessee

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Vanderbilt defense struggles yet again in loss to Tennessee

Djery Baptiste (12) as Vanderbilt lost to rival Tennessee 87-75 at Memorial Gym January 14, 2017. Photo by Ziyi Liu.

Djery Baptiste (12) as Vanderbilt lost to rival Tennessee 87-75 at Memorial Gym January 14, 2017. Photo by Ziyi Liu.

Ziyi Liu

Djery Baptiste (12) as Vanderbilt lost to rival Tennessee 87-75 at Memorial Gym January 14, 2017. Photo by Ziyi Liu.

Ziyi Liu

Ziyi Liu

Djery Baptiste (12) as Vanderbilt lost to rival Tennessee 87-75 at Memorial Gym January 14, 2017. Photo by Ziyi Liu.

Cutler Klein, Sports Editor

Going into Saturday night, the Tennessee Volunteers were shooting just 32.4% from beyond the three-point arc. As a result, the Vanderbilt Commodores thought they could count on trying to force the Volunteers to the perimeter on defense.

What they didn’t count on was Tennessee making 53.3% of their three-point attempts, giving them an 87-75 win over Vanderbilt at Memorial Gym.

The Volunteers were led by guard Jordan Bone, who hit four of his five three-point attempts after making just one all season going into the game.

Coupled with their 87-81 loss to Kentucky on Tuesday, this was the first time Vanderbilt gave up 80+ points in back-to-back games since January 2-5, 2016, when they gave up 90 points twice in back-to-back losses to LSU and Arkansas.

Even though it’s just two games, the inability to get defensive stops is starting to become worrisome for this Commodore team.

“It’s uncharted waters for me,” Vanderbilt head coach Bryce Drew said. “My teams have been some of the best defensive teams in the country over the last couple of years. We’re going to have to figure out different ways to get stops on defense.”

Of course, it’s unfair to completely blame the defense for the two straight home losses. Kentucky is one of the best offensive teams in the country, and Tennessee happened to suddenly catch fire on offense, shooting a whopping 58.6% from the field.

“They seemed to play with just a lot of confidence, they shot almost 60%,” Drew said of the Volunteers. “It’s really hard to win a game when you give up almost 60%.”

Drew said that their initial strategy was to play a zone defense to force Tennessee to take three-pointers. When they started making those three-pointers, they turned to man-to-man defense to try and be more aggressive.

It backfired when Tennessee kept making threes and Vanderbilt still couldn’t get stops. The Volunteers hit 62.5% of their three-point attempts in the second half, including three from Bone.

“I think guys are working hard,” Drew said. “I think, again, Tennessee was really good tonight. They made a lot of shots and they finished very good at the rim. They have some undersized post players that really finished over the top.”

One advantage that Vanderbilt had against Tennessee was a lack of foul trouble. Against Kentucky, both Commodore big men, Luke Kornet and Djery Baptiste, had four fouls early in the second half, severely hampering their defensive ability.

Even though most players stayed out of foul trouble, Kornet admitted he did not take advantage of it enough.

“Defensively, we didn’t want to overrun things to give them driving lanes, we were standing back, and when they’re hitting shots like they were, you just have to try and close up that space, especially with me in the zone,” Kornet said. “I probably was a little too passive and standing back when they caught it in the mid-post and short-corner areas. They did a good job of hitting those shots. I should have adjusted earlier in being more aggressive and not playing down on them.”

Overall, the team knows some adjustments must be made to fix their defensive struggles. The cliché remains true: defense wins championships.

“When you want to win championships, when you want to win at a high level, you have to be good on the defensive end,” Drew said. “Offense can look good for stretches and can win you games, but if you really want to build a championship team, you have to be able to get stops.”

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