NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Bruce Pearl celebrated his 200th game at Tennessee with a win and a few kisses to supportive Volunteer fans as he left the court at Memorial Gym.
Finally, his Vols showed they could close out a close game, and at the free throw line no less.
Scotty Hopson scored 19 points, and Tennessee rallied from 11 points down in the second half to upset No. 18 Vanderbilt 60-51 on Tuesday night and sweep the season series from its instate rival.
Reports swirled Tuesday night that Tennessee expects to receive official notice of allegations from the NCAA this week. Asked if he got a little emotional at the end of the game, Pearl said he was looking for his wife and Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, not necessarily in that order.
``All of a sudden, I look up and all of our fans still stuck around,' Pearl said. ``That's what makes it such a rivalry. ... We finally gave our fans something. We put our fans through a lot this year on and off the court, and so it was good to reward them a little bit for staying with us.'
Tennessee (17-11, 7-6 Southeastern Conference) has won two of its last three, and this time the Vols won by hitting their free throws when it mattered most. Hopson hit all six of his attempts as Tennessee, which hit only three of its first nine from the line, hit 11 of 12 over the final 2:52.
This is the team that couldn't hit a free throw late in losing 61-60 at Florida and couldn't rally in losing last weekend to Georgia.
``Today we never gave up,' Tennessee senior guard Melvin Goins said. ``We always believed.'
The Vols played some stingy defense, holding Vanderbilt to the fewest points ever scored against Tennessee in Memorial Gym and the fewest scored against the Vols in a home game since the Commodores won 50-44 on Jan. 28, 1950. It's the fewest points the Commodores have scored overall in Memorial since beating Georgia 50-40 on Jan. 14, 2009.
Vanderbilt came in averaging 77.6 points per game this season.
Goins scored 15 points, and Tobias Harris had 10 for the Vols who got sweet revenge after being swept by the Commodores last season.
``That kind of sticks with you in the offseason a little bit,' said Pearl, who wore his orange blazer in honor of this heated rivalry. ``I know it makes a difference to our fans.'
The Commodores (20-7, 8-5) snapped a five-game winning streak. John Jenkins, the SEC's leading scorer, had 11 points for Vanderbilt, two in the second half. Festus Ezeli had 11 points before fouling out, and Steve Tchiengang, who fouled out, scored all of his 10 points in the first half.
``We had nine fouls on our two 5 men in the second half,' Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said. ``That's ridiculous. We didn't play with focus, with aggressiveness, we got outfought and that's why we got beat.'
Vanderbilt led 31-27 at halftime and opened the second half with an 11-4 run. Jenkins stole the ball from Harris and fed it upcourt to Jeff Taylor, who slammed home a tomahawk dunk with 15:45 left. Ezeli had two blocks, one setting up Taylor for a fast-break basket and Ezeli finished off the next possession with a dunk for a 42-31 lead with 12:55 left.
Jenkins said he thought the Commodores got comfortable, which bit them in the end.
``It's pretty tough. We thought we had them this time, we were at home so we thought we had a good advantage, but it didn't work out for us,' Jenkins said.
That prompted Pearl to take a timeout as it looked like the Commodores would blow out the Vols, who rallied from 17 down to beat Vandy 67-64 in Knoxville on Jan. 15.
The Vols didn't fall that far behind in this game.
Tennessee whittled that lead away with Goins reaching double figures for only his fourth time in SEC play this season. He got a steal and a layup, then Brian Williams hit a jumper. Harris hit one of two free throws, and then Hopson's layup tied it up at 49 with 5:27 left.
Taylor scored on a layup with 5:01 left to put Vanderbilt ahead one last time, but that was the last point the Commodores would score as they finished with 16 turnovers. Tennessee had 15 steals.
``I thought we had guys that for some reason decided that they were going to be individual players instead of team players,' Stallings said. ``Incredible number of turnovers where we're trying to do things we're not capable of doing. They did a great job defensively, but we made it somewhat easy at times by getting out of what we like to do.'
Tennessee wound up hitting as many free throws (14 of 21) as Vanderbilt (14 of 19) in matching the SEC's best free throw shooting team.
The Vols started off almost as cold as they did when these teams met in January, missing their first five shots and seven of their first nine. Pearl had his Vols trying to milk as much of the shot clock as possible on most possessions.
The teams went through stretches of cold shooting and sloppy play in the first half. Tennessee forced Vanderbilt into a season-high 21 turnovers in SEC play in their first meeting, and the Vols had a steal on each of the Commodores' first four turnovers.
At one sequence, Andre Walker stole the ball from Tennessee forward Steven Pearl who tipped it away from Walker to Vols teammate Trae Golden, and he passed back to Pearl for the layup and a 24-22 lead with 3:04 left.
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
All Rights Reserved