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Vanderbilt Sends Its Seniors Off as Winners With a 86-69 Victory over Tennessee

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Wade Baldwin continued his streak of chewing up the Volunteers.

Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

Vanderbilt is undefeated in games where Carter Josephs, Nathan Watkins, and Josh Henderson earn starts. Make a note of that for the SEC Tournament next week.

The Commodores unveiled an unorthodox lineup in the team's last home game of 2016, but Vandy's trio of departing seniors helped push the team to a dominant 86-69 win over Tennessee. Wade Baldwin IV didn't start, but he continued his tradition of carving up the Vols by scoring 17 points and adding six rebounds and seven assists to lead the 'Dores to their fourth-straight win.

Vanderbilt avoided falling into a trap against the 13-17 Volunteers on Tuesday. Tennessee gave the 'Dores a bit of scare early on, but ultimately couldn't hide its depth problems. UT was playing without top scorer Kevin Punter and starting wing Robert Hubbs III. Without their gunners, the Vols turned the ball over 12 times against a swarming Vandy defense and had no answer for the 'Dores opportunistic shooting.

First-time starter Watkins kicked off the game with a jumper that gave Vandy an early lead, but the Commodores struggled to find their rhythm at the outset. Vanderbilt missed seven of its first eight three-point attempts and allowed Tennessee to take a 16-15 lead with 7:47 left in the half before a Jeff Roberson and-1 drive breathed some life back into the lineup. The 'Dores used a 28-8 run from that point to take a commanding 43-24 lead despite some sloppy play from its offense. Vandy made just 25 percent of its three-pointers but still managed to fend off the Vols by creating eight turnovers and forcing their visitors into a litany of awkward shots.

Tennessee tightened up its game in the second half to cut the 'Dores lead down to 10 points, but an on-the-fly switch to a zone defense bewildered an undermanned Volunteer offense, led to five UT turnovers in just 110 seconds, and sparked a 15-0 Vanderbilt run that effectively sealed a Senior Night win for the home team. Vandy's big lead allowed Watkins and Josephs to return to the court for the final 1:41 of the game and gave the program's departing veterans one final chance to walk off the Memorial Gym floor for the last time in their careers.

Vanderbilt improved to 19-11 and 11-6 in SEC play with the big victory. Tennessee fell to 13-17 and 6-11. The Commodores will return to action on Saturday when they travel to College Station to face No. 20 Texas A&M. A win there could be enough to move this team off the NCAA Tournament bubble for good.