In an hard-fought performance, the Vanderbilt Commodores fell to the 24th-ranked Tennessee Volunteers 92-84.
Vanderbilt freshman guard Saben Lee led the way with 21 points, while the team collectively rained threes, shooting 42% from beyond the arc. Jeff Roberson and Riley LaChance contributed to the hot shooting with 19 and 16 points, respectively. However, sophomore sensation Grant Williams carried Tennessee with 37 total points, contributing to 40 team points in the paint. Admiral Schofield came alive in the second half to finish with 22 points.
When asked about his career night, Williams responded humbly.
“[Brown and Baptiste] did a good job defending me,” he said. “They were contesting everything and I was just making shots.”
Both teams looked evenly-matched to start, with the largest lead in the first ten minutes being just 9-4 in favor of the Volunteers. Both Vanderbilt and Tennessee took advantage of turnovers to push the pace and create scoring opportunities.
Tennessee showed quick and active hands, forcing four turnovers in the first nine minutes, leading to a couple transition layups. Vanderbilt only gave up two offensive rebounds in the same time, allowing them to make a concerted effort to grab and go off of the rebounds they collected.
With neither team finding much success in the half-court offense, the game was tied 11-11 with 13:55 left in the half. After that, both teams started finding their rhythm on offense. Tennessee pounded the ball into the post repeatedly, while Vanderbilt flowed through their offense to the tune of open threes.
Vanderbilt’s big men struggled to defend in the post, biting on ball fakes and giving up post buckets to Tennessee’s strong and skilled big men. On the other end, Vanderbilt found nice lobs over the top into the post, leading to a couple of Brown dunks, despite one nasty rejection by Tennessee’s Williams.
Willis started off the three-point barrage with an off-the-dribble three and, along with LaChance and Roberson, had two threes apiece in the first half, including Willis’ second three being a prayer answered from way downtown with the shot clock expiring.
Williams put on a dazzling display of post moves, muscling and spinning his way to 17 points in the first half, leaving every big man Vanderbilt sent at him in his wake.
Coach Bryce Drew gave Williams credit for his performance tonight.
“The very first thing we teach on post defense is no spins baseline,” Drew said. “Williams did a tremendous job spinning every time to the baseline, getting contact, drawing fouls.”
However, Vanderbilt’s more balanced offensive attack at all three levels: in the paint, midrange, and behind the arc, allowed them to seize the advantage.
The highlight of the Commodores’ impressive shot making came when Saben Lee turned the corner on the baseline and rose up to throw down a one-handed slam. Shortly after, he followed it up by sizing up his defender and drilling an off-the-bounce three at the top of the key, putting Vanderbilt up 38-31 late in the first half.
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In the closing minutes of the first half, the Commodores also began double-teaming in the post, finding success forcing two steals. At the close of the half, LaChance swished a three after a ball fake to put Vanderbilt up 45-35.
LaChance stayed hot at the start of the second half, hitting a three and a mid-range jumper created by Lee’s penetration. However, Tennessee displayed greater range and versatility on offense, with Jordan Bowden and Schofield supporting Williams with their outside shooting.
Williams continued his assault on the rim, forcing both Baptiste and Brown into foul trouble, and after a Schofield three-pointer to close Vanderbilt’s lead to one, Williams pounded in an layup to give Tennessee their first lead since 6:16 in the first half.
Each team traded blows, with neither team flinching, but Tennessee leading. Lee led the charge for the Commodores, scoring nine of their 11 points over an eight-minute stretch. Williams attacked the paint, and Schofield cashed in 11 points including three three-pointers.
A transition layup by the Volunteers brought their lead to seven with 4:52 left. Brown then blocked Williams, keeping Vanderbilt’s hopes alive. However, Tennessee closed out the final two minutes with three Williams buckets and a transition three-pointer by Bone to push Vanderbilt out of reach with a ten-point lead at 1:00 despite the Commodores continuing to battle down to the last second.
Coach Drew spoke about the small margin of error for this team.
“When we miss a box out, when we miss a couple free throws, when we have a couple wide open looks from three that we worked hard to get it really hurts us,” he said. “With a small margin of error you really got to take care of those little things, we’ve shown we can do it. We’ve got to find a way to do it for all 40 minutes,” he said.
Vanderbilt will face another tough task Saturday, January 13th at 3pm when they face the #21-ranked Kentucky Wildcats.