Vandy’s Damian Jones (6-feet-10, 240 pounds) hit 6 of 9 shots en route to 16 points, 9 rebounds and 2 blocks. Teammate James Siakam (6-feet-7, 225 pounds) hit 6 of 10 shots on his way to 14 points, 7 rebounds and 3 blocks. Teammate Jeff Roberson (6-feet-6, 206 pounds) hit 4 of 4 shots en route to 12 points and 3 rebounds.
While the Commodores’ frontline trio was combining to make 16 of 23 shots, score 42 points and grab 19 rebounds, the Vols’ freshman duo of Willie Carmichael (2 points, 2 rebounds) and Tariq Owens (0 points, 0 rebounds) collaborated for a mere 2 points and 2 rebounds.
Given Vanderbilt's overwhelming dominance in the paint, the Commodores should have won in lopsided fashion. Instead, Tennessee posted an overtime victory that qualifies as a minor miracle. Barring another miracle, the Big Orange will have to play considerably better to win tonight’s rematch at Thompson-Boling Arena. That’s especially true for the Vols’ first-year post players. Vandy’s Jones dominated them in the earlier meeting.
"He is a talented, talented guy,” Tennessee head man Donnie Tyndall said this week. “I said before we played him the first game that, in my opinion, he will be an NBA player. When that will be I don't know but he has great size, great hands. He can step out and shoot it. He blocks and challenges shots. I think he is a guy that will make one of the All-SEC teams.”
In retrospect, limiting Jones to 16 points in the earlier meeting may have been about as well as Tennessee could hope for, given the Vols’ heavy reliance on Carmichael (6-feet-8, 205 pounds) and Owens (6-feet-10, 193 pounds). They couldn’t stop Jones from scoring but they did a decent good job of stopping him from getting the ball. The Vandy standout managed to launch just nine shots. Tyndall would be thrilled to see that happen again in the rematch.
"He's so good that obviously anything 10 or less is a good job defensively,” the Vol coach said.
Tennessee’s game plan tonight will be the same as it was last time: Front Jones and attempt to limit his touches, occasionally double-teaming him with a forward. This means giving up some open 3-pointers. That’s a trade-off Tyndall was willing to make in Nashville and he’s even more willing to make tonight in Knoxville.
“We have to do a better job fronting him and limiting his touches,” the Vol coach said. “Obviously, when you do that you give up some jump shots from the perimeter but he's so good that you have to do that.”
Though undersized and foul prone, Carmichael looms as a key figure for Tennessee tonight. He appears to have improved a bit since he went head-to-head with Jones 15 days ago in Nashville.
"I think Willie has gotten better the last three weeks – not necessarily in regard to foul trouble – but the game is slowing down a little bit,” Tyndall said. “He's finished a couple more balls. He still had the lapse (in Saturday’s loss at Ole Miss), where he tried to do too much and spun and ended up turning it over. But it seems the game is slowing down a little bit for him and he's getting a little bit more comfortable."
The Vols may be comfortable these days but they aren’t winning. They have dropped seven of their last nine games after opening the season 12-5. The skid can be traced in part to the limitations of the freshman post players. Carmichael (3.3) and Owens (0.9) combine to average a mere 4.2 points per game, so guarding them is optional.
“I just think it's really a situation where it comes down to we don't get any easy baskets,” Tyndall said. “In these one- or two-possession games, (it would really help) if you could throw it to the post and get two or three cheap buckets a game.”
Carmichael and Owens probably are a season away from getting cheap buckets. That’s why their key challenge tonight will be to try and keep Vandy’s Damian Jones from getting cheap buckets.
GAME NOTES: The Vols bring a 14-12 overall record and a 6-8 SEC mark into tonight’s game.…. The Commodores are 15-12 (5-9 SEC) under head coach Kevin Stallings, now in his 16th season with the Nashville school…. Whereas Tennessee is 0-3 since nipping Vandy 76-73 in OT on Feb. 11, the Commodores are 2-1, posting defeats of Alabama and Missouri…. Damian Jones leads Vandy in scoring (14.9 points per game) and rebounding (6.6 per game)…. Starting guard Riley LaChance is the SEC’s leading scorer among freshmen at 12.6 points per game…. Tennessee stands 70-17 all-time against Vanderbilt in Knoxville, with wins in the past four meetings…. Tonight’s game tips off at 7:00 with TV coverage provided by ESPN2.