Three inches of snow caked the ground outside of Thompson-Boling Arena Wednesday night, but the only thing colder than the powder that kept many fans away was Tennessee's offense. The Vols shot a paltry 33 percent and could find no match for Vanderbilt's trio of 7-foot post players in an 88-74 loss, giving Vanderbilt its second consecutive win in Knoxville.
The Commodores dominated in virtually every category en route to their easy 14-point win. Vanderbilt shot 39 percent from behind the arc, including 10 made 3-pointers in the first half, yet failed to establish itself much inside, being outscored in the paint 34-18 by Tennessee despite a double-double from junior big man Luke Kornet (10 points, 14 rebounds).
In a game against a much bigger opponent, Tennessee's guards had to produce from behind the 3-point line to have a chance at victory. The Vols were simply unable to find a rhythm there and it helped Vanderbilt's early lead snowball into a blodletting. Tennessee ended the night 4-of-20 from 3-point range and got outrebounded 50-43 in the loss.
"We looked like the team that I think everybody picked to finish 13th or whatever in the Southeastern Conference," coach Rick Barnes said. "It's what we played like. We came out and didn't do very much anything that we talked about. Really in the second half, with all that, we never really created any game pressure on them."
The game was really never in question long after the opening tip. After 31 seconds, the Commodores snagged a lead and clutched it firmly in their grip until the final buzzer. Vanderbilt's size presented problems on both ends, blocking 10 shots and forcing Tennessee to play one-on-one basketball and take bad shots that didn't fall.
"Their size obviously created problems for us inside," Barnes said. "They can also shoot it the way they can. We were trying to double some to start the game and we just weren't very good ... We wanted to drive it and kick out too, but we took some bad shots that didn't go in. I thought we got timid."
The loss was Tennessee's worst since suffering a 25-point beatdown against Vanderbilt in 2005. Former Tennessee commit Camron Justice drained three consecutive 3-pointers during a 14-4 run in the first half that effectively put the game away.
Kevin Punter led Tennessee with 23 points on 8-of-19 shooting, but even the wily point guard put up some tough shots and couldn't give his team a spark.
“I thought Kevin Punter took as many bad shots as he has all year," Barnes said. "We got down, and instead of staying together, and executing, and trying to grind it out, we didn’t do that. Bad offense will lead to bad defense."
Barnes believes the team's road win against Mississippi State Saturday injected the team with a little too much confidence heading into a tougher matchup with a Vanderbilt team picked to finish second in the preseason SEC media poll. Even instituting a full-court press in the second half couldn't stop the Commodores from breaking it for easy buckets to extend the lead.
“It goes back to what I said the other day: ‘proud peacock today, feather duster tomorrow,’" Barnes said. "I said it to them when we came back. ‘What you do today looks big to you. You haven’t done anything today.’ I can’t tell you why. We just didn’t execute. You could say with the building not being what it has been, but when you walk between those lines you have to play. We didn’t."
Armani Moore was inserted back in the lineup after missing the Vols' 80-75 win over MSU in Starkville with an ankle injury, finishing the game with 14 points and eight rebounds. It wasn't enough to dent the firestorm that Vanderbilt threw at Tennessee early.
“We were just awful today," Barnes said. "I don’t know what else to tell you. We didn’t do anything that we wanted to do offensively. We didn’t run anything in transition other than one or two sets maybe, and we have four or five things we can do. We just came down, did the same thing, never got the ball moving."
Tennessee won't have much time to dwell on the defeat. The Vols face No. 24 South Carolina at home Saturday in another stiff test inside Thompson-Boling Arena.
“We definitely have to bounce back," Punter said. "Those guys are tough. Those guys are hard-nosed. We have to be ready to come to play Saturday.”