Things looked grim for Vanderbilt at halftime. The Commodores' big men were struggling with foul trouble and the team couldn't shoot, protect the ball, or pull down rebounds.
Then, they came alive to put together a second half that looked like something out of NBA Jam to beat their arch rivals on the road.
Vanderbilt defeated Tennessee 73-65 thanks to a massive second half effort that erased a 13-point deficit and evened their season series with the Vols at one game apiece. Luke Kornet needed just seven shots to score 21 points and Wade Baldwin IV put together one of the best games off his college career with 13 points, seven rebounds, and six assists in the win.
The first half was plagued by ugly basketball and long runs. Both teams suffered through 12-0 stretches that were spurred by turnovers. The 'Dores and Vols each had periods where they turned the ball over six times in seven possessions to dig big holes in a back-and-forth opening frame. The difference was that UT was able to run their hot stretch through the end of the period. They beat Vandy 25-3 over the final 11:30 of the half.
While Vanderbilt outshot Tennessee early, turnovers and offensive rebounds led to a 28-20 disparity in scoring opportunities at halftime. When Vandy's hot shooting went cold, they found themselves down 30-19 at the break.
The Commodores abandoned their interior game early on in favor of outside shooting, Vandy didn't attempt a shot inside the arc until they were nearly halfway through the second half. Matthew Fisher-Davis shook off a 0-7 start to help shoot the 'Dores back into this one, but UT's ability to find offensive rebounds gave them the second chances they needed to keep Vanderbilt at bay.
That is, until Vanderbilt pieced together the ball movement to put together a 16-3 run and tie this game at 48-all. Their run brought an otherwise listless Knoxville crowd to life. However, a Damian Jones and-one and back-to-back threes from Kornet and Baldwin shut that energy down as the Commodores took a 57-50 lead. That forced UT coach Donnie Tyndall to take a timeout and start asking some questions.
The Vols couldn't stem Vandy's momentum. The 'Dores made 14 of their first 17 shots in the second half - a number that's even more impressive when you consider than most of those shots were threes. Of course, this game couldn't end without a little drama. Solid rebounding and ball movement gave Tennessee the tools to cut into Vandy's 11-point lead and bring back flashbacks of the Commodores' overtime loss to UT two weeks ago.
After going 4-9 from the free throw line in the final two minutes of that eventual loss to the Vols , the Commodores showed off stronger composure in Knoxville. Vandy made eight of their 10 free throws when UT began to deliberately foul late in the game. Those eight points were the difference in this game as Vandy held on to win 73-65.
The win improved the 'Dores to 16-12 and 6-9 in conference play. Tennessee fell to 14-13 and 6-9. Vanderbilt will return to action on Saturday when they host Alabama.