Vandy 90, UT 71: The Sweep Sound of Success

The sound you heard on Tuesday night at Memorial Gym - when Bruce Pearl wasn't vocally losing his composure – was the sound of Vanderbilt's fan base inwardly sighing with relief.


Yes, the Commodore Nation vigorously roared its approval in response to the big-time blowout VU delivered to the distracted and disjointed Vols, but underneath that full-throated and gleeful din lay a great deal of thanksgiving. Just when it seemed that a wobble against Mississippi State and a face-plant against Georgia had placed a promising season in peril, a thermonuclear 19-point knockout of Big Orange restored order in Nashville. The realization that its men's basketball team really is made of sterner stuff enabled Vandy fans to breathe deeply after a very nervous week.

That's right – there will be no collapse, no crisis of confidence, for the 2010 VU hoops crew. The Commodores, behind a career-high 26 points from sophomore guard Jeffery Taylor and yet another 20-point game from Jermaine Beal, sent the boys from Knoxville packing and backtracking down I-40 by a final score of 90-71. The win, Vanderbilt's 17th in a row at Memorial Gym, improves the Commodores to 18-5 overall, 7-2 in the SEC, and to a secure second-place position in the SEC East.

Coach Kevin Stallings called the game "one of our best performances of the year." There was no denying the validity of his statement. Vanderbilt essentially controlled the game from the opening tip, having leads of up to 20 points in the first half and 27 in the second half. The Volunteers never, ever led.

Stallings's game plan was clear: Get the ball to A.J. Ogilvy and Jeffery Taylor inside and let them attack the rim. While in the past the Commodores might have shied away from going at Wayne Chism, J.P. Prince, and the rest of Tennessee's long and athletic lineup, tonight the goal was go to them, draw contact, and find a path to the foul line.

Stallings could not have asked for a better 20-minute start to this showdown. The Commodores shot 12 of 23 for a 53.6 % first half; the percentage only seems low because the Dores hit over 70 % of their shots in the first 12 minutes. Stallings's emphasis on attacking the rim with his post players really paid off at the foul line. Vandy went to the line 21 times, making 18 free throws; that's an 85.7 % clip. While Tennessee's orange-clad competitors shot the same percentage, they only went to the line seven times, making six foul shots.

In what turned out to be the stat of the night, Vanderbilt ended up going to the line 43 times against the Vols, making 37 free throws and shooting 86 %. While many opposition fans back in Knoxville may wonder about home-court officiating, it was clear to all watching that, from the opening tip, Stallings had a specific intent to attack the rim and get to the line… and that the VU coach's designs were brought into being by a roster that executed extremely well. Until Lance Goulbourne made his 3-pointer at the 5:40 mark of the first half, Vandy had made only two other shots on the perimeter, Taylor's jump shot at the beginning of the game (VU's first made field goal) and a Beal three later on in the first half. Seeing the Dores shoot over 50 % for the half, it was clear that when they weren't making a basket, they were earning trips to the foul line courtesy of the men in orange.

As Pearl duly noted after the game, "You know Vanderbilt does a great job of getting to the foul line, they made 37 free throws, Jeffery Taylor made one less than our entire team made."

Taylor was indeed the star of the game. The 6-7 sophomore wing, who Stallings claims "is a better shooter than he thinks he is," hit his first jump shot, a 12-footer from the right wing, for the game's first points. He then scored 14 more points in the first half. His early baskets clearly gave him confidence. As he himself stated regarding the early made shots, "It got me going a little bit. Everybody was backing off of me, so I decided to shoot instead of passing it." When he wasn't scoring from the field, he was getting it done at the charity stripe too, where he was a perfect 12 for 12, only the fourth Commodore in school history to be perfect from the foul line in a game with at least 10 free throw attempts.

At the defensive end of the floor, Vanderbilt's ability to prevent Wayne Chism from establishing his offensive game on the low block was critical to the Dores' success. Pearl had made it a priority in the past three games to get the ball down low to his big man. The Vols did in those games and went 3-0. Tonight was a different story. Chism did finish with 16 points while shooting 5 of 12, but it's instructive to note that he was ignored early. In the first twelve minutes of the game, Chism got the ball inside only once, while Vandy was amassing a 30-10 lead. The offensive leader for the Vols finished the first half with only four shots.

Tennessee had a chance to get itself back into the ballgame in the first five minutes of the second half. Trailing by 17 to start the half, the Vols capitalized on four Vandy turnovers and a forced 3-pointer by Brad Tinsley to cut the Dores' lead to ten at 46-36. However, that brief 9-2 spurt wasn't sustained by the visitors from Knoxville. Tennessee witnessed Vandy's poor possessions and promptly returned the favor with six turnovers of its own over a span of 2:30. The turnovers, combined with poor Volunteer shot selection, spurred a 17-1 Vanderbilt run putting the Commodores up 66-39 with 11:16 remaining. The run was highlighted by a Beal 3-pointer in a four-on-one fast break, which – while not the shot Stallings would have preferred – created a result the coach couldn't argue with.

When you're hot you're hot, and VU never cooled off long enough for Big Orange to get its teeth in this tilt.

By that point in the proceedings, the wheels had come off the Tennessee cart and the only issue in doubt was the final score. The final ten minutes played out as garbage time with the both teams essentially trading baskets, leading to the final score of 90-71.

Based on the emotions that were displayed early in this game, there was no doubt that this was a rivalry game to the casual observer (not that there were many neutral observers in Memorial Gym; the grand old building rocked with delight throughout a spirited and electrically-charged evening). Early in the game Chism was fouled with Ogilvy giving the Tennessee big man a shove after the play. Both players were separated and no additional enforcement was applied by the officiating crew.

Pearl, letting the referees know his humble opinion of the consistency of the officiating, was hit with a technical at 12:14 of the first half, believing Prince was fouled while scoring on the previous possession. The chippy nature of this rivalry was not about to fade away, however. After an offensive foul on Vandy's Brad Tinsley, Steven Pearl - the coach's son if you were curious - gave Tinsley a little shove. The officials missed that one, but the shove Ogilvy gave the younger Pearl did not slip their attention. The big Aussie was hit with a technical. Beal chimed in after the game about the emotions involved in rivalry games, bluntly stating, "Tennessee doesn't like us too much. There was some pushing going on, but it's part of the game."

If Pearl believed his technical and continued harping on the officials would motivate his team, he must have been disappointed with the result. It was clear as the game went on, and Vanderbilt regained and lengthened its lead, that the Volunteer players only became more and more frustrated with the calls made by the officials.

Instead, the Volunteers should have been more frustrated with their shot selection. The Vols attempted 17 3-pointers and, as is often the case with Pearl's team, displayed a continued lack of patience on the offensive end. Particularly culpable were Scotty Hopson and Bobby Maze, Tennessee's backcourt leaders. As Vanderbilt was building an early lead, both Hopson and Maze attempted to shoot the Vols back into the game, instead of using the formula that Vandy was finding to be so successful.

Pearl actually replaced Maze with Bobby Goins, who was the lone first half bright spot for the Volunteers. Goins demonstrated his ability to penetrate the middle of Vanderbilt's defense, especially when Stallings inexplicably went to a 2-3 zone after having success throughout most of the first half with a man defense. Goins finished the night with 11 points and a team-high five assists. Maze did not have an assist on the night.

The Commodores certainly relished the opportunity to beat their in-state rivals a second time. Said Beal, whose three 3-pointers were exclamation points on three separate Vanderbilt runs, "It feels good… great actually. They're ranked 12th and I've never beat Tennessee twice in one season."

Vanderbilt fans across the state will now hope the attention of their team turns to Saturday's matchup with last-place LSU. While games loom on the horizon at Ole Miss and against Big (Bad) Blue in Memorial Gym, everyone wearing black and gold saw in Georgia what happens when you fail to follow the old coach's proverb of "One game at a time."

But now that Vanderbilt has swept the season series from Tennessee – and done so in entirely emphatic fashion – any notions of a Dore decline evaporated… just like the Vols' SEC East title chances on Tuesday night. While one team came unglued, the other one came together, and now, Vanderbilt's season-long prospects just got a whole lot brighter.

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