GAME NOTES: The Tennessee Volunteers will try to win back-to-back games for the first time in a month on Saturday afternoon when they welcome the Vanderbilt Commodores to Thompson-Boling Arena for SEC action.
Vanderbilt has enjoyed a solid campaign overall, going 15-12 with a 7-8 ledger in the SEC. The Commodores have been on the downswing of late with losses in four of their last six, most recently dropping a tough home matchup to top- ranked Florida on Tuesday night, 57-54, and now they head back out on the road where they've gone just 3-6.
Tennessee did not help its cause much as an NCAA Tournament bubble team in the month of February, going just 4-4 last month to dip to 17-11 overall and 8-7 in conference play, but after losing three of its previous four, the squad earned a solid road victory at Mississippi State on Wednesday, 75-68. The Vols have enjoyed the confines of their home arena, going 12-3 in Knoxville.
In the first meeting this season back on Feb. 5 in Nashville, Vanderbilt got the best of Tennessee, 64-60, but the Vols still have a comfortable 113-71 lead in the storied all-time series.
The Commodores put together a great performance against the nation's top team earlier this week, as they battled back from 12 points down in the second half to bring their deficit to only two in the final minute, but their comeback attempt fell just short. They shot an outstanding 48.8 percent from the field against the stout Gator defense, but they were ultimately done in by 16 turnovers. Rod Odom netted 12 points to lead the way, Dai-Jon Parker scored 11 and Kyle Fuller and Damian Jones had nine points apiece.
Vanderbilt has remained competitive this season by boasting a strong defensive attack, as it holds opposing team to a mere 40.1 percent field-goal shooting for 64.9 ppg, but unfortunately its effort on the offensive end of the court (.444, 66.0 ppg) has not been up to par, as it shoots just 65.1 percent from the free-throw line and owns a -2.3 turnover margin. Odom is the top scoring threat with 14.1 ppg and has drained 78 3-pointers at a 40.6 percent clip. Fuller (11.5 ppg) hands out 4.4 apg, while Jones (11.5 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 1.3 bpg) and James Siakam (7.6 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 1.4 bpg) have been strong assets in the frontcourt.
The Vols never trailed in their most recent bout, opening up an 11-point halftime lead before settling on the seven-point triumph. They shot only 39.4 percent from the field, compared to 42.9 percent for MSU, but they outscored their adversary from 3-point range, 18-9, and earned extra possessions by winning the rebounding battle, 43-35. Jordan McRae was the spark plug with 29 points and 10 rebounds. Jeronne Maymon also tallied a double-double with 10 points and 11 boards, while Jarnell Stokes narrowly missed one with 14 and nine.
Tennessee has been one of the SEC's most well-rounded teams this season, shooting 44.3 percent from the field for 72.0 ppg while yielding only 63.5 ppg on 42.1 percent shooting. It also owns the nation's eighth-best rebounding margin (+8.3) and shoots a solid percentage from the free-throw line (.710). McRae is the league's third-leading scorer with 19.7 ppg, having drained 68 3- pointers at a 38.9 percent clip. Stokes (14.4 ppg, 10.4 rpg) and Maymon (10.5 ppg, 8.3 rpg) make up an imposing frontcourt duo, ranking first and third in the SEC in rebounding, respectively. Josh Richardson chips in 9.5 ppg to the balanced attack.
Vanderbilt proved its defense is top notch with its performance against Florida earlier in the week, but it has clearly been an inferior team on the road this season, which bodes well for a Tennessee squad that has taken care of business at home.
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