Commodores rattle Tennessee, 65-47

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) – Jeffery Taylor can be very dangerous when he puts a complete game together for Vanderbilt. Add in a bitter rivalry, and the senior forward sent Tennessee home hurting and more than a bit embarrassed.

Taylor scored 15 of his 23 points in the first half, and the Vanderbilt Commodores bounced back Tuesday night by routing their instate rival Tennessee 65-47 for their ninth win in 10 games.

“Every single game means something, but I mean it’s a rivalry game,” Taylor said. “There’s no getting around that. Those guys don’t like us. We don’t like them. That’s just how it goes in a rivalry.”

The Commodores (15-5, 5-1 Southeastern Conference) had an eight-game winning streak snapped with an overtime loss to then-No. 20 Mississippi State. This time, they scored the first nine points of the game in rolling to another win with Taylor hitting all three of his 3s and going 4 of 4 at the line. He also grabbed nine rebounds and committed only one turnover against four steals.

Taylor Dunk“He played the way we needed him to play and the way he can play,” said Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings, who now is 12-14 against Tennessee. “You know, he is not going to go 3-from-3 all the time, but he took the right shots and just was a very active player. And when Jeff is active, he is very, very good.”

The loss ruined Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin’s debut in the orange blazer made famous by Ray Mears, then Bruce Pearl. The Vols (9-11, 1-4) fell to 0-6 in true road games, had a season-low point total and looked nothing like the group that upset defending national champion Connecticut 60-57 last weekend.

Martin said the Vols have to find a way to win on the road and get back to work.

“Taylor did a really good job to set the pace,” Martin said. “We did not shoot well and there was no real follow-though. We weren’t able to consistently get inside. (Vanderbilt) did a good job across the board, start to finish.”

John Jenkins, the SEC’s leading scorer, had 16 points for the Commodores.

Vanderbilt looked ready to run Tennessee out of the gym, jumping out to a 30-10 lead on a putback by Taylor with 5:46 to go in the first half.

“We got a great start,” Jenkins said. “We had a lot of energy, a lot of passion. I think that first start got us the win almost because we hit them in the mouth so hard it was easy for us to keep going with it. Our biggest fear was having a letdown, and we didn’t have too much of a letdown in the second half so that was good.”

Jeronne Maymon led Tennessee with 15 points. Freshman Jarnell Stokes had 10 rebounds but only six points and seven turnovers in the fourth game of his very short career. It was his second straight start.

Maymon said the Commodores kind of surprised the Vols with how physical they played and that he kind of blacked out for a second after hitting his head against Vanderbilt senior center Festus Ezeli.

“It was real physical,” Maymon said. “Probably the most physical all year that I’ve played in, so I guess a couple guys got rattled.”

Tennessee center Yemi Makanjoula was ejected late after a collision with Jenkins, who said Makanjoula “kind of clotheslined me” but apologized to him after the game.

These teams are the SEC’s stingiest scoring defenses with Vanderbilt holding opponents to 59 points and Tennessee allowing 60 points in league play. The Vols couldn’t slow down the Commodores and especially Taylor. After being swept by Tennessee in two of his first three seasons, Taylor scored six of Vanderbilt’s first 11 points, and he also had seven rebounds in the first half.

Even with the Commodores comfortably ahead, Taylor kept playing hard. He stole the ball from Wes Washpun and tossed it to Jenkins before going out of bounds, and Taylor finished the possession with a 3-pointer with 6:50 left.

Vanderbilt led by as much as 54-27 on a 3-pointer by Dai-Jon Parker. The Commodores shot 8 of 18 (44.4 percent) from 3-point range against a Tennessee defense that had been holding SEC teams to 25.8 percent beyond the arc.

Tennessee couldn’t have been much sloppier with 10 turnovers midway through the first half, and the Vols also struggled to shoot. They hit just 7 of 24 (29.2 percent) in the first half. They also finished with a season-high 25 turnovers that Vanderbilt turned into 30 points.

The Commodores had no such problems against a Tennessee defense that held Florida, Kentucky and Connecticut to its lowest scoring games this season. They wound up holding a second SEC team below 50 points this season after limiting Auburn to 35.

Jenkins hit a 3, then Lance Goulbourne added another to push Vanderbilt’s lead to double digits for the first time at 20-8 with 10:37 left.

The Vols showed some signs of life when officials called Ezeli for a flagrant foul with an apparent blow to Stokes’ head, and the freshman hit a pair of free throws. The two drew a technical apiece in the second half when Stokes bumped into Ezeli after drawing a foul from the senior.

Maymon scored, then stole the ball from Goulbourne and passed it to Trae Golden for a dunk. Brad Tinsley brought the crowd to its feet with consecutive dunks 17 seconds apart late in the half, the second as he drove past Skylar McBee.

That was the Vols’ best spurt as Vanderbilt cruised to the win and had the student section chanting in celebration with plenty of time left in the game.