“You’re a talented basketball team with talented players, and you’re coming up short. Enough is enough,” Jones told the Volunteers at halftime. “I had a few choice words for them. They responded. They came out and played Tennessee basketball.”
After trailing by 17 points with 2:03 left in the first half, the Vols got some defensive stops and found some offensive life to pull out a 67-64 win against Vanderbilt on Saturday.
It was Jones’ first win while filling in for coach Bruce Pearl as he serves an eight-game suspension from Southeastern Conference play for lying to NCAA investigators during an ongoing probe into recruiting. The victory also kept Tennessee from its first three-game losing skid in conference play during Pearl’s tenure.
The Commodores watched a solid lead unravel for a second time in the short SEC season. In an 83-75 overtime loss to South Carolina on Jan. 8, the Dores led by 11 points with 8:42 in the second half when the Gamecocks went on a 20-9 run to close out regulation.
Tennessee (11-6, 1-2) started its comeback a little earlier, drawing some life from a modest 7-0 run to close out the first half. In the last 1:32, Tobias Harris got a fast-break jumper, Brian Williams hit a layup and Skylar McBee sank all of his free throws after being fouled by Festus Ezeli while shooting behind the arc.
“I think that’s pretty much what won us the game right there, that play and those free throws,” Tennessee’s Scotty Hopson said. “That was definitely big going into the second half. We came out with that aggression and intensity. Fortunately took some stops got some offensive plays cut the game low and our veteran guys stepped up and won the game for us.”
Neither team shot particularly well in the first half, but Tennessee was worse. The Vols hit only 20 percent of their shots compared to the Commodores’ 37.9 percent.
After halftime, Vanderbilt (12-4, 1-2) warmed up to 45.5 percent shooting, but Tennessee was even hotter, hitting 48.7 percent of its shots and slowly chipping away at the Dores’ margin. Hopson came alive, scoring 14 of his team-high 16 points while fighting his way to the rim.
Tennessee finished with 16 points off 21 Vanderbilt turnovers and 21 second-chance points after trailing the Commodores in both categories at halftime.
Cameron Tatum hit a 3-pointer with 3:03 to go gave the Vols their first lead of the second half, and Tobias Harris hit the final go-ahead layup with 1:09 left.
After Harris’ shot and a timeout, John Jenkins stepped out of bounds before crossing halfcourt with 44 seconds left. Melvin Goins missed two shots for the Vols, and Brad Tinsley fouled Brian Williams with 2.7 seconds left as he grabbed the rebound.
Instead of letting Tennessee take the ball in bounds, Rod Odom fouled Harris, sending him to the line for one-and-one. He hit both shots, and Williams stole the ball as Tinsley threw it in bounds, and the clock ran out.
Harris finished with 15 points, Tatum had 12 and Skylar McBee had 10.
“We had a couple of bad breaks there at the end, but there is not much you can do about it,” Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said. “We didn’t finish the job, and that is really disappointing. It’s becoming a little bit of a common theme.”
The Vols appeared to fall apart midway through the first half when Goins stole the ball and dished it to an unguarded Scotty Hopson, who missed the open fast-break dunk. On the Vols’ next possession, Cameron Tatum had a basket negated by a charging foul.
Meanwhile, Odom hit a layup at 10:21 in the first half to launch a 12-0 run for Vanderbilt that included back-to-back 3-pointers from Jenkins and Tinsley. Jeffery Taylor stole the ball from Trae Golden and hit an open fast-break dunk with 7:33 before halftime to give the Dores an 18-8 lead.
Jenkins led the Commodores with 21 points, Taylor had 14 and Tinsley 12.
“I think we wanted to come out strong (in the second half), but I just don’t know what happened,” Jenkins said. “I can’t explain it right now. It hurts.”