A game that once looked very promising was slipping away from Vanderbilt in the second half and it wasn't because of turnovers or hot shooting by Tennessee. It was because of foul trouble.
First it was A.J. Ogilvy being whistled for his fourth foul at the 16:05 mark of the second half, then it was Shan Foster picking up his third foul with 14:44 to play, followed by Alex Gordon picking up his fourth with 12:06 to play in the game. Gordon eventually fouled out with 1:28 to play.
Each foul made Vanderbilt's chances of defeating the top-ranked Volunteers seem less and less likely. After Ogilvy's fourth foul the tension inside Memorial Gym was so thick you could cut it with a knife. How could the Commodores prevail with its top three scorers saddled with fouls? Not with a bench that failed to score in its last game again Georgia, right?
Even with the odds stacked against them, the Commodores were able to prevail thanks in part to a gutsy defensive effort and a shooting clinic put on by Shan Foster. Vanderbilt limited Tennessee to just 32.8 percent shooting from the floor and 26.9 percent from long range. The Volunteers entered the game as the league's top three-pointing shooting team at 38.0 percent.
"Defensively, they were able to do a really god job of disrupting us," Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl said. "We really struggled with three-point baskets. We could not finish at the rim. As a result, offense was a struggle."
Foster's play was magnificent, finishing one point shy of matching his career high with 32 points on 9-of-13 shooting and 6-of-9 from three, despite the foul trouble.
"I just think that's great coaching," Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings joked after the game. "I told him to get 30 tonight and not take very many shots. It's amazing. Shan is a terrific player. I hadn't looked at his stat line, but against their defense, that is phenomenal.
"We were on life support there for a while and he was it," Stallings said. He was out life support and was the only thing keeping us breathing. He deserves this because he is a special kid."
Foster also played a key part in Vanderbilt's hot start, scoring 10 of the team's first 21 points of the game. Vanderbilt took its largest lead of the game - 23-9 - at the 10:47 mark of the first half. In building the lead, Vanderbilt showed no signs of being in awe of playing the No. 1 team in the nation. After Chris Lofton opened the game with a three-pointer, the Commodores went on a 10-0 run en route to building its advantage.
However, Vanderbilt's cushion wouldn't last long, as Tennessee went on a 13-3 run, which cut Vanderbilt's lead from 14 (23-9) to four (26-22) with 5:06 to play. During Tennessee's run Ogilvy was forced to the bench at the 6:29 mark of the half after picking up his third foul and did not return until the 16:29 mark of the second half.
Adding to Tennessee's comeback was the foul trouble of Foster, who accumulated all seven of his minutes spent on the bench in the first half.
Although Vanderbilt went to the locker room with a 31-28 lead, you could feel the momentum shifting.
The momentum finally tilted completely in Tennessee's favor just a little over a minute into the second half when a three-point play by Lofton gave Tennessee a 36-34 lead.
Despite losing the lead and the game looking like it could spiral out of control because of foul trouble, Vanderbilt never panicked and refused to let Tennessee runaway with the game. The most Vanderbilt would trail from that point on would be three. While the team's defense and the play of Foster are what will be highlighted in the sports section on Wednesday, it must be noted that the play of the bench was equally as important and maybe even more surprising.
Following Saturday's win at Georgia where the bench went scoreless, any concerns with Vanderbilt's bench play may have been answered tonight. Whether it was Jamie Graham playing a career-best six minutes of lockdown defense, Darshawn McClellan coming up with two crucial blocked shots on would-be layups or Alan Metcalfe scoring six points and grabbing five boards, the bench played a large role in the win.
The group only finished with six points courtesy of Metcalfe, but without those six points and a combined 58 minutes of contribution, the Commodores could be looking at a 69-66 loss instead of a 72-69 win.