Tennessee won its eighth straight game over instate rival Vanderbilt Wednesday, 70-58. The Vols struggled offensively but a 21-point performance from Victor Bailey Jr. and 20-point performance from Jaden Springer helped Tennessee survive the undermanned Commodores.
Vanderbilt was crippled by injuries to three of its starters including stars Scotty Pippen Jr. and Dylan Disu. Disu is the reigning SEC player of the week after averaging 23 points and 15.5 rebounds in two narrow Commodore losses. Pippen ranks second in the SEC with 20.5 points per game.
With Disu, Pippen and starting forward Clevon Brown out, the Commodores were without 49.9% of its scoring on the season.
“We didn’t know until we got here— obviously they’re helping their team rebound warming up while they were in sweats,” Tennessee head coach Barnes said of when he knew Disu and Pippen were out. “I think you have to give Jerry Stackhouse a great deal of credit. He does so many good things offensively, they spread us out and they made some threes.”
Despite missing its two best players, Vanderbilt stayed in the game for much of the first half thanks to a four-of-eight start from three-point range and 10 first half Tennessee turnovers. Midway through the first half, Vanderbilt used an 11-0 run over a 5:37 stretch to take a 20-17 lead.
Vanderbilt went ice cold after that as Tennessee closed the first half strong with a 15-2 run to take a 10-point lead into the locker room.
Vanderbilt’s cold shooting continued into the start of the second half as Tennessee opened up a 17-point lead before the first media timeout. From there, Vanderbilt went on a 12-4 run to get back within nine points thanks to five-of-seven shooting from deep.
Vanderbilt stayed in the game with strong defense as Tennessee struggled to score. The Vols’ never led by more than 13 from that point on and the Commodores got it as close as four points going into the under four minute media timeout.
Aiding Tennessee’s offensive struggles was its 17 turnovers on the game, including seven in the second half.
“We just can’t continue to turn the ball over at that type of rate,” Barnes said.
“The turnovers, they affect us pretty good,” Bailey said. “We have to make sure we take care of the ball. Coach talks about it every day, taking care of the ball. It’s big for us because we have guys that can score, but you can’t get shots on the goal if you’re turning the ball over.”
From there, Tennessee’s freshmen guards took control of the game and took the Vols home. Keon Johnson hit two free throws out of the timeout and completed a baseline dunk on the next possession after beating his man on a backdoor cut.
Springer then scored six straight in 55 seconds to push Tennessee’s lead back to 12 points with under a minute left.
“They were big,” Bailey said. “Keon had a big dunk to kind of seal the deal for us and give us our mojo. Obviously, Jaden played really well down the stretch making layups and making good passes and making the right decisions. We need those guys. We need those guys and they're big for us because they can make plays.”
After playing his worst game of the season Saturday against Kentucky, Springer responded well, scoring 20 points on five-of-eight shooting from the field and a perfect 10-of-10 shooting at the free throw line.
“He played the point (guard) more tonight than he has in a long time,” Barnes said. “I think that was a good adjustment for him, but the fact that he fought back. … I thought he worked hard defensively. I thought he worked hard offensively trying to get guys involved, really too much honestly.”
Bailey was the only other Vol to have a strong offensive night, scoring a game high 21 points thanks to five-of-eight shooting from three-point range. It was the third straight game where Bailey has been an offensive catalyst for UT after struggling for much of SEC play.
Tennessee will return to action Saturday when they travel to Auburn to take on the Tigers. Tip-off from Auburn Arena is set for noon ET and will be broadcast on ESPN.