No. 10 Tennessee, Vanderbilt take second crack at matchup

NCAA Basketball

No. 10 Tennessee and Vanderbilt renew their in-state rivalry, a few days delayed, when they meet Saturday night in Knoxville.

The teams were slated to square off Tuesday in Nashville, a game that wasn’t scheduled until Jan. 9. However, that contest was postponed Monday after a COVID-19 contact-tracing issue within the Vanderbilt program.

The scrapped Tuesday matchup came about after each team’s original Tuesday opponent (Vanderbilt’s was Missouri, Tennessee’s was South Carolina) paused basketball activities due to COVID-19 outbreaks.

The 10th-ranked Volunteers (9-1, 3-1 Southeastern Conference) rebounded nicely from a 71-63 home defeat by Alabama by beating Arkansas and Texas A&M by a combined 19 points the past two games.

Four Tennessee players — Victor Bailey Jr. (12.4 points per game), John Fulkerson (11.6), Santiago Vescovi (10.3) and Jaden Springer (10.0) — average double-figure scoring while Keon Johnson, Yves Pons and Josiah-Jordan James have each scored 10 or more at least three times.

All seven have started at least once, and Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said he will remain flexible with his lineup.

“I don’t think we have a set thing,” Barnes said. “We played with a lineup the other day that we’ve never practiced with. They did a terrific job. We had four guards out there with Yves for a couple of possessions.”

Vescovi led the way Jan. 9 in Tennessee’s 68-54 win at Texas A&M, hitting six 3-pointers and scoring 23 points.

Meanwhile, Vanderbilt (4-5, 0-3) has struggled to find depth and consistency. The Commodores have been awful on defense, allowing 84 points or more in three of their past five games.

Vanderbilt point guard Scotty Pippen Jr. has been terrific, ranking second in the league in scoring (21.6) and assists (5.8) per game. Pippen is tied for 10th in the SEC in steals (1.6) and ranks sixth at the foul line (82.3 percent).

The sophomore had 18 points and a season-high 12 assists in 34 minutes during Vanderbilt’s 84-81 loss to Mississippi State on Jan. 9.

The Commodores have begun to find some offensive help for Pippen. Vanderbilt was 15 of 33 (45.5 percent) from 3-point range against Mississippi State as Trey Thomas (17 points), Dylan Disu (16) and D.J. Harvey (13) added double-digit scoring.

In the preceding game, a 77-74 loss at Kentucky, Vanderbilt got 18 points apiece from Jordan Wright, Pippen and Disu plus 16 points from Myles Stute.

However, poor defense again cost the Commodores a win against Mississippi State. Bulldogs bigs Tolu Smith and Abdul Ado combined for 26 points on 11-of-16 shooting.

Making matters worse, Mississippi State guards D.J. Stewart Jr. and Iverson Molinar penetrated at will, combining for 40 points on 14-of-22 shooting — all 2-point attempts. Overall, the Bulldogs hit 60.8 percent of their field-goal attempts.

Commodores coach Jerry Stackhouse felt his team ran into some bad luck in the contest.

“(Mississippi State) made everything (it) threw up,” Stackhouse said. “Give them credit for making plays, but I don’t think it’s as bad as the field-goal percentage. If the team shoots 60.8 percent and you still have a chance to win the game, that’s not going to happen too often.”

–Field Level Media

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