It was a butt-whipping the likes of which Vandy's football team is accustomed to receiving over at nearby Neyland Stadium.
It may take a while for the implications of this 88-63 victory to sink in. Suffice it to say, it was one of the most devastating displays of the Kevin Stallings era, and it left no doubt about which team currently holds the upper hand in this twice-annual meeting of cross-state rivals. It was a veritable clinic, a demonstration of team basketball not often seen in the college ranks.
A 25-point win for Vandy on the road in the SEC? Get real. The Commodores, which had been notorious for losing their shooting touch in their first four games away from Memorial Gym, located the basket early in this one and sank eight three-pointers in the first half. Vandy, which had backed off from jacking up 3's in the second half after taking a double-digit lead in the Alabama game, continued pumping vs. the Vols-- and dropped in ten more in the second stanza. The total of 18 was one short of the SEC record, set by Alabama last December.
Tennessee freshman Chris Lofton, who had led the nation in 3-point percentage coming into the game, said he had never seen a team shoot from outside like that before. "It was unreal," he said. "It was frustrating."
"Vanderbilt shot the eyes out," said UT coach Buzz Peterson, a good man who's suddenly starting to catch a fair amount of heat from the Big Orange Nation. "I had a concern after watching their Alabama tape about what Vanderbilt might do offensively. On that tape, they executed the half-court offense very well, and you could see how much Vanderbilt has improved."
But as splendid and notable as was the Dores' outside shooting, Kevin Stallings was even more pleased by the aggressiveness on defense and the unselfishness on offense, resulting in a jaw-dropping tally of 31 assists on 34 field goals made.
"I have never in all my years coaching seen anything like that," Stallings said. "That is a good sign for us - the way we share the ball. These are good kids who play the right way. They have developed a really good chemistry."
Frequently burning Tennessee's ill-prepared defense on back-door cuts, Vandy's clinicians showed their mastery at making the extra pass and locating the open man-- whether he was racing underneath the basket or standing unguarded behind the arc. It was a performance that is quickly making Vanderbilt darlings in the eyes of national and regional commentators. Venerable CBS analyst Bill Raftery gushed after the game about the Commodores' disciplined halfcourt offense, once referring to Vandy as "The Princeton of the South."
Nor did Stallings' Commodores neglect to bring their defensive intensity. Vanderbilt held stud Brandon Crump without a basket for the game's first 24 minutes, and held Lofton to a single measly trey. On the glass, Stallings' team held a 38-28 edge over the burly Vols.
In the first half it was freshman wing Shan Foster who canned three 3's. His first put Vanderbilt up 10-4, and his second stretched the lead to 18-7. His third trey, from well behind the arc, gave Vandy an imposing 30-14 lead with 6:12 left in the half. Mario Moore eventually warmed up and found the range for five 3-point bombs.
Still, despite the Dores' mind-boggling shooting display, the Vols were able to limit the deficit to between 10 and 15 points through most of the second half. With just over five minutes left, a Crump 3-pointer cut the lead to 70-57. The lethargic home crowd warmed up just a bit. The game was still within reach.
But Vandy again quickly asserted itself when, on successive possessions, Dan Cage blew past his man for a lay-up, and Jason Holwerda dunked on a backdoor cut. It was enough to cause Peterson to angrily pull his starters from the game with 4:34 left. The poised Commodores closed the game on an 18-6 run that included two more treys.
Last year Stallings' team was dependent on Matt Freije for scoring, perhaps overly so; the team looked to Freije to bail it out of any tough situation. This year, though the inside game still misses his scoring, the current-edition Commodores (11-4, 2-0) have suddenly found at least six players who can score from outside. All six dropped in at least one three Saturday.
The results thus far in Southeastern Conference play have been surprising, and devastating. There's a long, tough road ahead, including a date Wednesday at Rupp Arena, where Vandy is 0-for-forever. But the unselfish Commodores are 2-0 in the league, their best conference start since Eddie Fogler days.
"We love playing this style of basketball," said Moore, Vandy's leading scorer Saturday with 18. "We've got so many shooters, that if you focus on one of us, somebody else is going to get open and knock one down. We have confidence now that if we just play our game, the game will come to us."
Vanderbilt goes for its eighth win in a row Wednesday vs. No. 8 Kentucky in Lexington. Tipoff is set for 6 p.m. CT. The game will be televised regionally by Fox Sports Net South and The Sunshine Network. Kentucky (10-1, 1-0 SEC) hosts No. 2 Kansas Sunday afternoon.
Tennessee was assessed a technical foul to begin the game, after a Tennessee player dunked the ball during warm-ups. Mario Moore hit one of two free throws before any time was taken off the clock.
Vanderbilt has won every game this season in which it has led at halftime.