Hubbs had missed a potential game-tying last-second shot in an earlier loss at Arkansas but he was on target this time.
“He was man enough to want the ball and take the ball,” Vol head man Donnie Tyndall said on the post-game show, “and this one happened to go in for him.”
Coming off a 1-for-13 shooting performance against Georgia, Vol captain Josh Richardson hit 10 of 18 shots on this night, finishing with 27 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 steals. He scored five of Tennessee’s nine overtime points.
“Josh is a competitor, he’s a winner, he’s a phenomenal leader,” Tyndall said. “He happened to have a bad shooting night (in Athens) but I knew he’d respond the right way…. I’ve rolled with Josh for 22 games, and we’re going to roll with him for eight or 10 more. He was fantastic tonight.”
Richardson played 42 of the game’s 45 minutes. Ironically, Tennessee’s coaches met earlier in the day to discuss ways of reducing the senior point guard’s workload.
“We took him out one time,” Tyndall recalled. “They (Commodores) pressed us, we go back-to-back turnovers and he about tackled me to get back in the game.”
Armani Moore added 13 points, Derek Reese 12, Kevin Punter 10 and Hubbs 9 as the Vols improved to 14-9 overall and 6-5 in SEC play. A tender ankle nearly kept Reese from playing but he wound up hitting 5 of 6 shots, including 2 of 2 from 3, with 8 rebounds, 2 assists, a steal and a block.
“Chad (Newman), our trainer, did an unbelievable job of getting him ready,” Tyndall said. “He hurt his ankle in practice on Monday, missed most of that practice and missed Tuesday. We really didn’t think he’d be able to play today.”
The Vols’ lack of height and heft proved costly once again. Vanderbilt’s 6-foot-10, 240-pound Damian Jones scored 16 points and 6-foot-7, 220-pound James Siakam added 14 for the Commodores, who slip to 13-11 and 3-8.
Tennessee had lost four of its previous five games and appeared destined to lose again when Vandy had a 61-56 lead and the ball entering the final two minutes of regulation. The Vols forced a shot-clock violation, however, then Richardson parlayed an offensive rebound into an eight-footer that whittled the deficit to 61-58 with 1:15 left.
Jeff Roberson hit one of two free throws for Vandy but Richardson nailed a 19-footer that narrowed the gap to 62-60 with 34.2 seconds left. The Commodores shredded Tennessee’s press and got a Roberson dunk to go up 64-60. Moments later Vandy freshman Luke Kornet made one of two foul shots, giving the Commodores a 65-60 lead with just 16.4 seconds left.
Punter hit a 3-pointer that trimmed the deficit to 65-63 with 9.8 seconds left. Vandy freshman Riley LaChance had a chance to seal the win with 8.6 seconds left but made just one of two foul shots, pushing the lead to 66-63.
Vanderbilt purposely fouled Richardson to prevent the Vols from launching a potential game-tying 3-point try. Richardson made both foul shots with 6.3 seconds left, then Tennessee fouled Commodore freshman Wade Baldwin before the ball was inbounded. He made one of two foul shots with 6.3 seconds remaining, giving Vanderbilt a 67-65 lead and setting the stage for the dramatic final play of regulation.
Tennessee wanted Richardson to take the final shot. Knowing this, the Commodores blanketed the Vol senior.
“They denied Josh – put two guys on him – so Robert came back to the ball and did a nice job of bringing it into the open floor,” Tyndall recalled. “A lot of times in those situations the opponent is afraid to foul you; they were a little reluctant, and he (Hubbs) was able to get all the way to the rim.”
With two men on Richardson, Hubbs drove to the right side of the basket and put up a four-footer that banked in at the buzzer, tying the score at 67.
Richardson drained a 3 to open the overtime but layups by Jones and Siakam helped Vandy ease ahead 73-72 with 1:58 remaining in OT. Punter hit two foul shots with 1:18 remaining, then Richardson hit two more with 8.6 seconds left to give the Vols a 76-73 lead. With Tennessee blanketing the 3-point arc, LaChance missed badly on a 27-footer and the Vols rebounded.
Moore was fouled with six-tenths of a second left but missed both free throws. Vandy tried a 70-foot pass and a desperation 20-foot tip at the buzzer that didn’t come close to the rim.
“We were fortunate,” Tyndall conceded. “They (Commodores) missed a couple of free throws late that gave us an opportunity to force overtime. But, that being said, I’m very, very proud of our kids and the effort they showed. It was a gut-check win, and they showed a great deal of resiliency.”