This one is difficult to analyze.
Tennessee had lost two regular season games to Vanderbilt. The Vols were missing two of their best players, including leading scorer Kevin Punter Jr.
The Vols were going against a Vanderbilt team with two seven-footers and had a distinct height advantage.
Yet it was the Vols that came out on fire in the first half and Vanderbilt was stunned. The Vols led 34-22 at halftime as the Commodores hit only 10 of 32 shots and found the mark on only one of 13 tries. They started out missing their first nine 3-point attempts.
It was a game of two halves. From press row, it looked like the two teams had exchanged uniforms.
The Vols held on and avoided overtime when Vanderbilt’s Wade Badwin IV’s drive to the basket was good, but replays showed it was after time expired.
Tennessee, 67-65. Vandy went down for the count.
It marked the first time since 2010 that Tennessee has won multiple games in the SEC Tournament. It also gave the Vols a 9-1 all time record against Vanderbilt in the SEC Tournament.
It could endanger the Commodores’ chances of hearing their name called Sunday when the NCAA Tournament bids come out. At the best they will drop in seeding, as bracketoligist Joe Lunardi had them a 9-seed going into the conference tournament. The loss to the Vol will likely change them into a bubble team.
One key to Tennessee’s victory over Vanderbilt was holding 7-foot center Damian Jones to only eight shots and two rebounds. The Vols tallest starter was 6-7 forward Derek Reese.
“It wasn’t his best day and I don’t want to say too much because he was working hard in there,’’ Stallings said of Jones. “So they built a crowd around him or sat on his lap or whatever.
“At one point, the official came over and told me, ‘Hey listen, we’re going to start calling the fouls with them backing up into him and holding him.’ I mean, he walked over unsolicited and said that to me. They never did, but he said they were going to. So at least they noticed.’’
Tennessee advances to meet LSU in the second game Friday. It will tip approximately 30 minutes after Game One, which means it will start around 2:30 p.m.
LSU is another team that has under-achieved and will have to go deep in the SEC Tournament to earn a NCAA Tournament bid.
The Tigers lost to the Vols, 81-65 last month.
The Tigers will be favored in the second game Friday, so the Vols can play the spoiler’s role once again.
Tennessee Coach Rick Barnes doesn’t think fatigue will be a factor.
“Everybody makes a big deal about the fatigue factor,’’ he said. “They’re playing basketball.
“They’ve got to want to go out – there’s things a lot tougher to life to have to get up to do than come here (Friday) and play a 40-minute game.’’
Joe Biddle is a wkrn.com sports columnist. He is a member of the Tennessee Sports Writers Association Hall of Fame. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.