Senior Jermaine Beal said he wasn't concerned Tuesday night about the Volunteers making a run at Vanderbilt's double-digit lead in the second half. He knew things were going the way of the Commodores after a struggling teammate drilled two jumpers in the opening minutes.
"He's the man right here," Beal said, pointing at a sheepish Jeff Taylor after Vanderbilt's 90-71 rout of Tennessee.
Taylor scored eight of Vanderbilt's first 14 points, and 16 in the first half, to lead the No. 24 Commodores (18-5, 7-2 Southeastern Conference) to their first season sweep of the 12th-ranked Volunteers (18-5, 6-3) since the 2004-05 season. He finished with 26, going 7-11 from the field and hitting all 12 of his free throw attempts.
"It just got me going a little bit," Taylor said of his hot start. "Everyone was telling me this week to shoot when they back off. I just came in the game with the mentality to shoot it right away. They went in today."
Despite missing freshman sharpshooter John Jenkins due to a stomach virus, Vanderbilt was all over Tennessee from the opening tip, surging to a 17-4 lead at the 13:30 mark and taking a 17-point advantage into halftime, the largest of the conference slate, before a roaring White-Out crowd at Memorial Gym.
"We jumped out on them right away, got a bunch of stops," Taylor said. "I'd have to say (it was) one of the best starts we had this year. We kind of put it all together tonight."
After Tennessee crept within 10 with 17 minutes remaining in the second half, the Commodores went on a 20-3 run over four minutes to take a 27-point lead and bury the Volunteers.
Taylor had shot just 7-21 from the field in Vanderbilt's three previous games, two of which had been losses. Starting at Kentucky, defenses sagged off the athletic forward and dared him to beat them with the jumper. It wasn't falling, and Taylor wasn't feeling confident, which puzzled Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings.
"He's one of the only guys who I've ever coached who's a better shooter than he thinks he is," Stallings said. "We see it all the time, we see it at practice, and obviously it came out in the game tonight."
Stallings spoke with his sophomore forward at Monday afternoon's practice about being more confident in not just his ability to drive to the basket but also to knock down those outside shots. Taylor showed it with his most assertive performance in weeks for a team that needed a win after an ugly loss at Georgia on Saturday.
"He's seen me shoot the ball in practice all last year and this year, and he just told me that every time I shoot it he thinks it's going in, and he just wanted me to believe in my shot as much as he does," Taylor said. "That's the biggest thing, and just getting confidence and shooting it instead of thinking about it."
Stallings said Taylor's breakout game was inevitable, and his timing couldn't have been better.
"Jeff Taylor obviously was special tonight, and I could see that coming," Stallings said. "I didn't know it was coming tonight. I knew he was on the verge. He kind of had that look."