Vanderbilt facing big challenge in visit from No. 6 Tennessee


Sixth-ranked Tennessee and Vanderbilt renew an in-state rivalry when the Volunteers travel to Nashville’s Memorial Gymnasium to face the Commodores on Wednesday.

It’s the second meeting between the teams this season. Tennessee knocked off Vanderbilt 77-68 on Jan. 10 in Knoxville behind 15 points each from Julian Phillips and Santiago Vescovi.

Liam Robbins led Vanderbilt (11-12, 4-6 Southeastern Conference) with 18 points that evening, while Jordan Wright chipped in 13.

Both teams won on Saturday following mid-week losses.

The Vols (19-4, 8-2) shot just 27 percent in Saturday’s 46-43 win over Auburn while the Tigers hit just 23.6 percent of their shots. Also key was the play of Josiah-Jordan James, who had 15 points and 14 rebounds on Saturday.

“It was a grind,” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said afterward. “For us, again, I kept reminding the team last night, because we’re around our guys and we know them. We said, ‘Hey, if we will just play great defense and rebound the ball on both ends, we’ll give ourself a chance.’ ”

That kind of defensive effort was nothing new for Tennessee, which held an opponent to 50 points or fewer for the 11th time this year. According to Ken Pomeroy, the Vols allow just 80.7 points per 100 possessions, a remarkable 5.7 points ahead of No. 2 Rutgers.

A driver for that has been the Vols’ backcourt of Vescovi and Zakai Zeigler, who average 2.2 and 2.1 steals per game, respectively.

The Commodores, meanwhile, give up 106.0 points per 100 possessions, but the recent return of Robbins (who missed four January games with a foot injury) makes them a more formidable foe.

Vandy’s 7-footer collected 19 points, 12 rebounds and seven blocks in its 74-71 home win over Ole Miss on Saturday. He ranks second in the SEC with 3.0 blocks per game.

Also key in that Commodore victory was Tyrin Lawrence, who notched his first career double-double (18 points, 10 rebounds) following coach Jerry Stackhouse’s decision to bench him in Vanderbilt’s disastrous 101-44 loss at Alabama the previous game.

“We had a conversation and it was just about, ‘Man, I demand more from you,’ ” Stackhouse said regarding a recent conversation with Lawrence. “It’s just your talent and your ability is … take nothing away from the guys on our roster, but it’s just different, so we need you to do more. I need you to be more accountable. I think he has the potential to be able to play at the next level.”

Whether the Commodores have Jordan Wright (10.3 points per game) remains to be seen. He missed Saturday’s Ole Miss contest after a head-on collision with Robbins against Alabama.

Wright’s absence would likely necessitate a bigger night from Myles Stute (10.0 ppg), whose 41.8 percent mark from 3-point range is the best for either team. Stute was 7-for-14 from distance in Vandy’s 72-66 loss at Texas A&M that preceded the Alabama blowout, but just 3-for-14 on 3s in two games since.

Stackhouse, in his fourth year at Vanderbilt, is 0-7 against Barnes and the Vols. Tennessee has an 11-game winning streak in the series, with Vandy’s last win coming in Knoxville on Feb. 22, 2017.

–Field Level Media

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