NASHVILLE, TN- Tennessee used a strong second half to get back in the win column Saturday night outlasting the struggling Commodores, 66-45.
Tennessee ended the first half about as poorly as possible as the Vols didn’t score in the half’s final 6:38 capped off by a John Fulkerson missed layup on the Vols' final possession of the half.
Strong defense from Tennessee and poor shooting from the Commodores stopped Vanderbilt from taking full advantage of the Vols’ offensive struggles. Vanderbilt would end the half on a 7-0 run, but Tennessee still held a 21-20 lead.
The start of the second half saw a complete 180 from the end of the first as the Vols quickly expanded their lead and distanced themselves from the Commodores.
Tennessee opened the second half on a 10-0 run, forcing three turnovers and getting some transition baskets before Vanderbilt head coach Jerry Stackhouse took a timeout.
“We were able to get out and run which we’ve been trying to get our guys to do that,” Barnes said. “At the start of the second half we were able to turn some of those defensive stops into baskets and we need to get out and get some of those.”
The timeout did little to settle the Commodores as Tennessee would extend its run to 16-3 in the half’s first six minutes and 27-8 over the first 10 minutes of the second half.
From there Tennessee would coast as the Vols’ guards handled Vanderbilt’s full-court press well in the second half finding the easy baskets that’s alluded this team for much of the year.
Tennessee’s 14 assists were the most the Vols have tallied since the SEC opening loss to LSU when the Vols dished out 18. Josiah-Jordan James led the way for Tennessee with five assists while Yves Pons added three.
“It was really good,” redshirt-junior forward John Fulkerson said. “I think that’s something we need to do more, play in transition and play fast. I think we have guys that can run and that’s part of their strength is to get out in transition.”
“Coach was telling us before the game to try and get easy baskets and try to push it up the court,” senior guard Jordan Bowden said. “That’s what we did.”
It was a big night for Bowden as the Knoxville native was able to break out of the slump that’s plagued most of his senior campaign. Bowden led all scorers with 21 points while dishing out two assists and recording three steals.
“I didn’t think Jordan Bowden pressed at all today,” Barnes said. “I thought he just let it come to him.”
After the first four games of the conference slate saw Tennessee average over 25 attempted 3-pointers the Vols shot just eight Saturday. Tennessee struggled from beyond the arc making just one 3-pointer, but the rest of the Vols’ offense was clicking as Tennessee shot 53% from the field including 67% shooting in the second half.
“We have to establish an inside presence,” Barnes said. “We have to do that. It doesn’t mean you have to score; it means you have to work to get the ball in the high percentage area. No other reason than to make the team foul, make them guard us.”
Tennessee’s one made 3-pointer was enough to outlast the Commodores from beyond the arc as for the first time since the introduction of the 3-point line Vanderbilt failed to make a 3-pointer. The Commodores went 0 of 25 from beyond the arc, ending the streak at 1,080 games.
The 21-point victory was Tennessee’s largest SEC win since January 5th, 2019 when Tennessee beat Georgia, 96-50.
Tennessee will return to action Tuesday night when the Vols host Ole Miss to Thompson-Boling Arena. Tipoff is set for 9 p.m. ET and will be broadcast on SEC Network.