Jermaine Beal had been in Knoxville the past three seasons for Vanderbilt’s lopsided defeats. The team’s lone senior decided he wasn’t going to go 0-4 against the rival Vols.
Beal scored 25 points, 18 of them in the second half, keying a 29-11 run that turned a 6-point deficit with 13:37 remaining into a 14-point lead at the 5-minute mark that had a rowdy crowd at Thompson-Boling Arena thunderstruck. The 21st-ranked Commodores (16-3, 5-0) cruised from there, closing it out at the line en route to an 85-76 victory, their first in No. 14 Tennessee’s gym in more than 5 years.
In the last three seasons, Vanderbilt had not scored more than 62 points and lost by an average of over 18 points a contest to its bitter rival when they met in Knoxville.
Beal was the catalyst in turning all that around, and he did it all while taking great care of the ball, adding two assists and never turning the ball over.
“I thought Beal was absolutely spectacular in the second half and I am really proud of him,” said Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings. “That was a terrific game for him.”
In a one-minute period, he knocked down a short jumper and two 3-pointers, the last of which gave the Commodores an insurmountable 74-60 lead with 4:58 remaining.
“Beal’s always been the guy who made that team go,” said Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl. “He was dominant, and he was focused.”
The Volunteers (15-4, 3-2) lost at home for the first time in 11 games this season.
For Stallings, even more key than Beal’s play during the Commodore run was his play during Tennessee’s. After Vanderbilt knotted things up 39-39 with 16:59 remaining, the Volunteers scored 10 of the game’s next 14 points and the orange-clad crowd was louder than ever.
But Beal coolly stepped up and hit a jumper to cut the lead back to four, and Stallings called time-out to quell the uproar. Try as they might, the Vols couldn’t pull away.
“I thought (it was) our biggest basket of the night,” Stallings said. “If we do not score there, they are on a run and we have got some issues perhaps.”
The Commodores trailed at halftime for the fourth time in their five conference games but it once again did not matter. They scored 54 points on the strength of a 17-30 (57 percent) shooting performance from the field in the final 20 minutes and never blinked once during every one of Tennessee’s comeback attempts.
“Both teams played hard and we feel fortunate to win,” Stallings said.
The Volunteers missed 9 of their final 10 3-point attempts and struggled at the line, making just 14-24 shots. Vanderbilt, meanwhile, improved to 3-0 away from Memorial Gym in SEC play and exceeded its conference road win total from last year, when it went 2-6.
The Commodores were also outstanding on the boards, out-rebounding the Volunteers 41-37 for numerous second-chance baskets. Junior A.J. Ogilvy had 12 points, and sophomores Jeff Taylor and Brad Tinsley had 10. Tinsley’s 3-pointer at the 8:42 mark made it 59-56 in favor of Vanderbilt and Tennessee could never climb back on top.
“Vanderbilt’s experience obviously took over in crucial situations,” Pearl said. “That was the difference in the game.”