Jeffery Taylor (VM/Stan Jones)
NASHVILLE--Tennessee capitalized on another stout defensive showing in the clutch, another resilient second half performance from forward Scotty Hopson and another nightmare in the turnovers column for Vanderbilt to secure a regular-season sweep of the Commodores with a 60-51 win at Memorial Gymnasium on Tuesday night.
Hopson scored 12 of his game-high 19 points in the second half, as he and the rest of the Volunteers attacked Vanderbilt inside to turn an 11-point deficit with 13:02 remaining into a nine-point victory.
“He just gets the ball and attacks the rim and does a pretty good job of drawing fouls, I guess,” said Vanderbilt head coach Kevin Stallings of Hopson, who went on a similar late-game tear in the teams’ first meeting on January 15th to lead the Volunteers to a 67-64 comeback victory in Knoxville.
After a relatively clean first 20 minutes during which the two teams combined to shoot just eight free throws, Vanderbilt big men Festus Ezeli and Steve Tchiengang were called for nine personal fouls in the second half. Both players had fouled out by the final minute, as Tennessee closed out its comeback from the free-throw line, putting the Commodores away with 11 unanswered points all from the free-throw line.
“We had nine fouls on our two five-men in the second half, and that’s ridiculous,” Stallings said. “We didn’t play with focus, we didn’t play with aggressiveness, we got outfought, and that’s why we got beat.”
The Commodores scored just 20 points in the second half and only six in the final 10 minutes, their last field goal coming on a Jeff Taylor layup with 5:02 to play, and set a new season-low for scoring as a team. John Jenkins, the Southeastern Conference’s leading scorer, finished with 11 points on 4-for-13 shooting from the field and committed a team-high five turnovers under constant pressure from senior defensive specialist Josh Bone, among others.
“It was their whole team on me, pretty much,” said Jenkins, who recorded his lowest point total since he scored 10 points on December 4th against Belmont. “[Bone] got a lot of help from his other guys, shading out and doing a lot of other things.”
The Commodores committed 16 turnovers, 15 of which on steals, against the same Tennessee team that forced a season-worst 21 in Knoxville over a month ago. Guard Melvin Goins helped set the defensive pace all night for the visitors and was one of three Volunteers with three steals.
“We had some just crazy turnovers in transition,” Stallings said. “Just dribbling the ball, and we give it to them.”
Tchiengang’s outside shooting helped lift the Commodores to a four-point halftime lead – the junior took advantage of the space offered him early on to connect on two attempts from three-point range and scored all 10 of his points in the first half. But the Volunteers went after him under the basket along with Ezeli on the other end and took full advantage of their 19 trips to the foul line after the break, while the Vanderbilt offense stagnated at the worst time.
“We just weren’t moving like we usually do,” Jenkins said. “We weren’t passing the ball, we were kind of ball-holding and waiting for somebody else to do something. That’s something we can easily get fixed, and we’ll be all right.”
“I thought we got out-toughed, out-physicaled, and I thought we had guys that for some reason decided they were going to be team players tonight instead of individual players,” Stallings said.
Vanderbilt takes to the road for the final two times in the next week to take on LSU and Kentucky before welcoming Florida into Nashville on the final day of the regular season.