Vols upset Vandy 76-66

That Tennessee beat No. 23 Vanderbilt Wednesday night at Thompson-Boling Arena was surprising. HOW the Vols did it was downright mind-boggling.

Jemere Hendrix broke a season-long 3-point drought and broke the Commodores' backs by nailing a desperation trey with 1:32 remaining, spurring the Vols to a 76-66 triumph.

Leading just 68-62, Tennessee had the ball at sidecourt with just three seconds on the shot clock. Buzz Peterson's first option was to get the ball to Scooter McFadgon, the team's best outside shooter. Option No. 2 was to get the ball to 6-foot-10 Brandon Crump on the inside. Perhaps 93rd on Peterson's list of options was a 3-point try by Hendrix -- a 6-foot-8 forward who had tried just two shots beyond the arc all season. But fate was smiling on the Vols.

''When I saw two men on Crump, I knew I was the only person open,'' Hendrix explained. ''With only three seconds on the shot clock, I knew when I got it that I had to shoot it.''

Since Hendrix has probably the most limited shooting range on the team, the fact he hit a 25-foot shot in the game's most crucial moment was somewhat akin to a plowhorse winning the Kentucky Derby.

Peterson shook his head as he recalled the unlikely basket.

''Jemere ... well, that's one of those things that happens,'' he said. ''You just expect the unexpected sometimes.''

Unexpected? How about unthinkable?

Tennessee trailed 20-19, then C.J. Watson nailed a 3 and an 18-footer to give the Vols a lead they would never relinquish. UT stretched a 31-26 intermission lead to 12 (44-32) five minutes into the second half but Vandy closed to 46-41. The Vols surged in front by 11 three times -- the last at 60-49 -- but the Dores fought back to within three (65-62) with 2:52 left.

McFadgon hit a clutch 3 at this point, setting the stage for Hendrix' unlikely game-clincher that took the air right out of Vanderbilt, now 12-2 overall and 1-2 in SEC action.

''Our gameplan was to make them shoot 3s,'' Peterson said. ''We were lucky that they didn't make very many.''

Indeed. The Commodores were a pathetic 1 of 15 in the second half (6.7 percent) and hit just 4 of 21 (19 percent) for the game.

Tennessee's overall defense -- atrocious in a 95-57 loss at Florida four days earlier -- bounced back with a solid effort. The Vols limited Commodore star Matt Freije to 2 of 12 shooting and 8 points. Vanderbilt shot just 29.6 percent in the first half and 36.1 percent for the game.

Crump and McFadgon scored 20 points each for UT, now 10-2 overall and 2-1 in SEC play. Crump was a perfect 10 of 10 from the foul line. Watson added 11 points and a game-high 13 rebounds. Tennessee won the backboard battle 44-30.

With the Vols coming off the humiliating loss at Gainesville, Peterson admitted he felt a bit of fear heading into the Vandy game.

''In basketball, the best thing about fear is the opportunity to go out there again and prove yourself,'' he said. ''Your confidence level has got to get back, and there's no better way to get that out of our minds than facing a good opponent.''

Especially if you win.

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