Did you hear the alarm go off? It was the halftime wake-up call at Thompson-Boling Arena. I do believe Rick Barnes was saying “Enough already!”
Tennessee had started OK against Vanderbilt, built a nine-point lead, took a little nap and found itself trailing by a goal. That was a shock for the No. 5 Volunteers.
The Commodores scored seven points when the home team wasn’t looking, including a length-of-the-floor scamper with a Tennessee turnover for a layup that produced a 39-37 first-half advantage.
This just wasn’t the way it was supposed to be. The Vols got reorganized, won the second half convincingly, won the game, 77-68, improved the season record to 14-2 and extended the home streak to 25 in a row.
Barnes said Vanderbilt is better than its 8-8 record and that Jerry Stackhouse is a very good coach. Barnes said he expected a tough game and the Commodores certainly delivered one.
Vandy was noticeably better in the first half. It gave greater effort. It was very good on defense.
“Liam Robbins had his way with us inside,” said Barnes.
Tennessee was far more assertive after intermission. Julian Phillips and Tyreke Key combined for the first nine points. Vandy didn’t go away, but it never recovered.
Phillips and Santiago Vescovi finished with 15 points each. Both shot well (six for nine). Three Vescovi hits were threes. Both claimed six rebounds
Uros Plavsic had one of his better games – 11 points, six rebounds, three steals. He even made three or three free throws. He provided insight into the difference in the two halves.
“Vanderbilt had more rebounds in the first half. We heard about that from Coach Barnes. We were minus two. We take pride in rebounding. We became more aggressive.”
Uros said the Vols more often found open shooters. Barnes helped with that discovery.
Robbins was a problem. He is tight-end big. He led everybody with 18 points. Vols did not flee. They kept getting his way. He made 10 of 12 free throws.
Vescovi said what Barnes said about the Commodores – very good team, well-coached, excellent offense, gritty, determined defense.
Zakai Zeigler had nine assists but did not disrupt the Vandy offense as much as he has bothered some teams. Olivier Nkamhoua didn’t miss a shot in two previous games but missed three this time.
Bonus show: The Vols will retire guard Chris Lofton’s No. 5 jersey at halftime of Saturday’s game against Kentucky. There are two reasons. He is the all-time SEC leader in three-point shooting and he’s from Maysville, Kentucky.
University of Kentucky did not offer him a scholarship. Lofton remembers what Wildcat fans said in explanation – “Too short. Too slow. Not quick enough. Couldn’t dribble well enough. Couldn’t play defense.”
During the honors program, UT will show my favorite Lofton shot, over Kevin Durant of Texas from a step or three in front of mid-court.
It was pretty good. Years later, Durant said it was the best shot he had ever seen, anytime, anywhere, at any level.
Rick Barnes was the Texas coach.
Marvin West welcomes comments or questions from readers. His address is [email protected]