Payback time?

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Tennessee's players haven't forgotten the 65-47 beat-down they suffered Jan. 24 at Vanderbilt, so they're looking for payback in today's Knoxville rematch ... one Vol in particular.

That would be freshman Jarnell Stokes. Seemingly rattled by the Commodores' physical play in the earlier game at Nashville, the 6-foot-8, 270-pounder finished with more turnovers (7) than points (6). The primary source of his misery was Festus Ezeli, the 6-foot-11, 255-pound Vandy center who produced 5 points, 9 rebounds and 4 blocks in the previous encounter.

The fact Ezeli outplayed the heralded Stokes that evening is easily explained. Ezeli was a fifth-year senior playing in his 115th college game, Stokes a mid-term freshman playing in his fourth college game.

Stokes has grown since then ... a lot. He showed just how much he has matured Wednesday night at LSU, hitting 9 of 10 shots and posting a career-high 18 points in the Vols' 74-69 victory. So, today's rematch with Ezeli promises to be an intriguing confrontation, especially if Vanderbilt elects to play Stokes straight up, rather than double-teaming him all game.

"He played well the first couple of games he was here, then all of a sudden he starts seeing double teams every time," Vol head man Cuonzo Martin said of Stokes. "That's not an easy thing ... for a young guy to face a double team of big, physical guys coming at him.

"The last couple of games he's had one-on-one coverage, and I thought he played well. He's tough to guard one on one."

Stokes showed his versatility by stepping out and draining a couple of mid-range jump shots at LSU. That might be a way to lure Ezeli away from the basket in today's game.

"He's a guy that can face up and make plays," Martin said of Stokes. "He's probably better at facing up and scoring than with his back to the basket."

The Stokes-Ezeli matchup could be a key to today's game, which features high stakes for each team.

At 21-9 overall and 10-5 in SEC play, Vanderbilt needs a win to lock up a first-round bye in the league tournament and improve its seeding for the NCAA Tournament.

At 17-13 overall and 9-6 in SEC play, Tennessee needs a win to clinch an NIT bid and strengthen its case for an NCAA at-large bid. A victory, coupled with a Kentucky win Sunday at Florida, would give the Vols the No. 2 seeding and a first-round bye in next week's SEC Tournament at New Orleans.

Martin says a bye is not his major concern at this point, however.

"The bye really doesn't matter," he said. "If you win the ballgame you keep moving forward. That's the most important thing."

Vanderbilt's physicality and 3-point shooting make the Commodores a difficult matchup for Tennessee, as they proved in the earlier meeting at Nashville. The Vols have won 12 of their last 13 games at home, however, which could be a critical factor in their favor today.

"It's going to be huge," sophomore point guard Trae Golden said. "Vandy's playing really well right now. We're winning good at home, so we just have to make sure we come ready to play. I know it's going to be a great atmosphere. It's a huge game for us."

Today will be Senior Day, with two seniors playing their final home game — grad student Cameron Tatum and senior Renaldo Woolridge.

Although he coached these players for just one season, Martin says he has grown close to them.

"When you build relationships, it doesn't really matter how much time (you've spent together). They're part of your family," he said. "Renaldo and Cam are two quality young men, two good guys who have put their time in and been solid citizens. It's not always easy but they're part of the family. They're two guys I enjoy being around."

Also playing his final home game today will be Tyler Summitt, a redshirt sophomore in eligibility who is on track to graduate in May.

NOTES: Both of today's head coaches are Purdue alumni. Martin finished up his basketball eligibility in 1995, then finished his degree in 2000. Vandy's Kevin Stallings graduated in 1982.... With a crowd of 18,300-plus today Tennessee should overtake Wisconsin and place among the NCAA's top five in attendance for a seventh year in succession.... Sophomore Jordan McRae has 24 blocked shots and needs two today to pass suspended Kenny Hall (25) and become the first guard to lead the Vols in that category since UT began keeping the stat in 1977.... Tennessee is 12-1 in home finales against Vanderbilt.... Vandy is expected to start Ezeli (10.4 points, 5.3 rebounds per game), 6-foot-8, 230-pound Lance Goulbourne (8.8 points, 6.8 rebounds), 6-foot-7, 225-pound Jeffery Taylor (17.4 points, 6.0 rebounds), 6-foot-4, 220-pound John Jenkins (20.1 points per game) and 6-foot-3, 210-pound Brad Tinsley (8.8 points, 4.3 assists per game).... The Commodores are making a sizzling 40.2 percent from 3, meaning they shoot better as a team than Tennessee's individual leader, Skylar McBee (39.9 percent). Jenkins is hitting a red-hot 46.7 percent from beyond the arc.... Today's game will be televised by ESPN with a 4:05 tipoff.

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