Vandy drained its last 13 shots to finish the second half 16 of 19 from the field (84.2 percent), including nine of 11 from 3-point range (81.8 percent), in rallying from a 13-point deficit to beat the Vols 73-65.
To his credit, Tennessee’s head coach tried every defense known to man. To his dismay, none of them worked.
“We tried every defense,” Donnie Tyndall said. “We changed our zones, we went man-to-man, we tried to trap the corner to get them out of rhythm. We just couldn’t get the shooters.”
Basically, Vanderbilt beat Tennessee inside-out – driving to the basket to collapse the defense, then kicking the ball back outside for open 3-pointers.
“A lot of it stemmed from not guarding the dribble, as we had to help over and take away layups or dribble penetration in the paint,” Tyndall conceded. “They kicked it out and made some tough 3s.”
Speaking of tough, Tennessee has dropped four games in a row and eight of its last 10, falling to 14-13 overall and 6-9 in SEC play. Vanderbilt improves to 16-12 overall and 6-9 in league action.
Ironically enough, 6-foot-7, 225-pound Commodore senior James Siakam picked up his third foul shortly before halftime, which proved to be a break for Vandy. The Commodores went with a four-guard lineup in the second half that provided a lot more movement and a lot more perimeter punch.
“I think the biggest thing,” Tyndall said, “was they changed their offense the second half, and we couldn’t guard the dribble, which led to (Vandy) drawing kick 3s.”
Vol senior captain Josh Richardson echoed those thoughts, noting: "I think they did a good job of spreading the court against us and putting a lot of movement in their offense. I don’t think we guarded the dribble like we could have.”
One of the streakiest games in Thompson-Boling history saw Vanderbilt make a 12-0 spurt to turn a 5-4 deficit into a 16-5 lead. Tennessee answered with a 14-0 run to go ahead 19-16. After a Vandy 3-pointer, the Vols scored the final 11 points before intermission. Closing the half with a 25-3 explosion enabled Tennessee to take a 30-19 lead to the locker room.
A 3-point basket by Richardson bumped the lead to 13 points (37-24) with 17:46 to play but Vanderbilt freshman Matthew Fisher-Davis nailed back-to-back 3s moments later, trimming a 39-26 deficit to 39-32. He misfired on a subsequent 3-pointer that rimmed three times before coming out. That would be the last shot the Commodores missed. They were 13 for 13 thereafter, thanks largely to 7-foot sophomore Luke Kornet.
Kornet began Vandy’s torrid finish with a 3-pointer from the right corner that trimmed the gap to 45-35. Fisher-Davis followed with another trey, whittling the deficit to 45-38. After a Siakam layup, Kornet hit another 3 to cap an 11-0 spurt that reduced Tennessee’s lead to 45-43.
Richardson broke Tennessee’s drought with a free throw but Commodore freshman Shelton Mitchell scored on a drive and Kornet hit another 3 moments later to tie the score at 48. Richardson sank a 15-footer but 6-foot-10 Damian Jones answered with a three-point play that gave Vanderbilt a 51-50 lead with 7:20 remaining. Freshman Wade Baldwin and Kornet stroked back-to-back 3-pointers as Vanderbilt went up 57-50, then Jones scored on a dunk as the Commodore lead swelled to nine (59-50) with 5:20 remaining.
Armani Moore finally scored on a drive for Tennessee but Kornet and Jones broke free for back-to-back dunks as the Commodores went up 63-52 with 2:40 left. Down 64-54 moments later, the Vols launched their final push. Derek Reese and Robert Hubbs sandwiched 3-pointers around a traditional three-point play by Richardson as Tennessee closed to 68-63 with one minute remaining.
With Tennessee forced to foul, Kornet hit 4 of 4 free throws and freshman Riley LaChance 1 of 2 down the stretch to seal the win.
Kornett finished 6 of 7 from the field – 5 of 6 from 3 – and led Vanderbilt with 21 points. Eighteen of his points came during Vanderbilt’s 54-point second half.
"Luke Kornet is one of the better shooters in the league,” Richardson said. “Once you let a shooter get going, it’s tough to cool them off."
Jones and Baldwin chipped in 13 points each for the Commodores.
Richardson led Tennessee with 20 points and 5 assists. Reese added 13 points.
The Vols managed to lose despite outrebounding Vandy 37-19 and outscoring the visitors 24-0 in second-chance points. The Commodores’ incredible second-half shooting proved to be the difference, as they finished 23 of 40 from the field (57.5 percent) and 13 of 25 from behind the arc (52 percent). Tennessee, conversely, made just 22 of 59 from the field (37.3 percent) and 8 of 26 from beyond the arc (30.8 percent). On a positive note, the Vols were 13 of 15 from the foul line.
Tennessee returns to action Saturday, visiting Florida for a 6 p.m. tipoff.