This Tuesday, Tennessee basketball welcomes in-state rival Vanderbilt to Thompson-Boling Arena. This will be the second time that two teams have faced this year, as the Vols defeated the Dores on Jan. 18 by a score of 66-45.
Tennessee holds a substantial lead in the series between these two schools, as the all-time tally currently sits at 123-75 against Vanderbilt. When the Vols host, the series is even more skewed in their favor, leading 63-16 over the Dores.
The first half of their last matchup was a close affair, as the Vols went into half holding a lead of a single point. However, Tennessee created separation through a dominant second half, outscoring Vanderbilt 45-25 in the final twenty minutes of the contest. Jordan Bowden was the star of the game, scoring 21 points on 7-11 in the field in what was one his best games of the season.
The Dores have had a terrible season by conventional standards, but this has been an improvement from the 0-19 in conference record they earned last season. Despite only having one win this season, Vanderbilt knocked off No. 18 LSU and the Dores came close to beating No. 12 Kentucky last weekend.
“I think Jerry (Stackhouse) has done a great job.” Vols head coach Rick Barnes said “When I watch them, I think his players have improved. Obviously, they went through a period where they were in a shooting slump and it hurt them. There's not one guy on their team that hasn't improved since we've played them. Again, I think that's a sign of terrific coaching and players that want to be coached. They have made it hard on everybody they have played. They're close like everyone. So, you have to be ready to play, it's plain and simple.”
Last time out, Tennessee lost an incredibly close game against South Carolina, but turnovers were crucial against the Vols in the defeat. As a team, Tennessee combined for 20 giveaways with John Fulkerson and Santiago Vescovi leading the team with six and four turnovers, respectively. Uros Plavsic actually had more turnovers (3) than minutes played (2).
Barnes spoke on what caused the turnovers.
“Some were (due to South Carolina’s defense)” Barnes said “but John Fulkerson's travels had nothing to do with their defense. Davonte threw the ball out of bounds with no pressure on him because Josiah broke his cut. That had nothing to do with them, that was us. That was the most frustrating thing from our team, was the fact that we turned it over too many times where they had nothing to do with it. That was the most disappointing thing, where it was just careless mistakes that we talked about, and twice we turned it over where we knew we were going to lob the ball, and we got a lob dunk and then Josiah came out in the timeout, and why he did it we don't know because that wasn't even the play we had on.”
This game comes at a time when Tennessee is searching for consistency as they haven’t been able to string together back to back wins since late January. This comes during a year that the Vols have been dealing with roster turnover and instability, so Barnes is not overtly worried due to the team’s youth.
“If you think about when the season started,” Barnes said “we were expecting Lamonte, Jordan Bowden and Josiah-Jordan James to play a lot. One of those guys is no longer with us, one is having as a tough a year as he has ever had, and the other has basically been hurt from the start. For us to even be where we are after those things, I'm really proud of these guys … I can only tell you what we have gone through. Right after Christmas, we were a team that looked like a shell of what we were when we started. Without Santiago (Vescovi) I don't know where we would be right now, but to be able to continue to fight back and still be in the thick of it, is a real compliment to these guys …”
Tipoff between Tennessee and Vanderbilt is set for 6:30 p.m. on the SEC Network and Vol Network.