March 3, 2012
(21-10, 10-6 SEC)
(18-13, 10-6 SEC)
On senior day, Cameron Tatum led the Vols with 18 points.
The Vols have secured at least the No. 3 seed in the SEC Tournament with the win over Vanderbilt, coupled with Alabama's loss to Ole Miss on Saturday.
Jarnell Stokes had 5 blocked shots, the most by any Vol in a game this season. That ties for sixth-most in a game in UT history.
Tennessee has won 13 of 14 season finales that have come against Vanderbilt in Knoxville, all-time.
Trae Golden has taken over the SEC lead in free throw percentage, making 8-of-8 against Vanderbilt. He passed Vandy's John Jenkins (84.3) in the game.
Tennessee will finish fifth in the NCAA in average attendance with 17,411 after a sellout-plus of 22,172 on Saturday.
BY JOSH PATE
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - Tennessee senior Cameron Tatum picked the right night to take over his team as he scored 18 points to lead the Volunteers in a 68-61 upset victory over in-state rival Vanderbilt in Saturday's regular season finale at Thompson-Boling Arena.
Trae Golden added 17 points, and Jarnell Stokes recorded his second career double-double with 11 points and a career-high 14 rebounds despite having flu-like symptoms. Jeronne Maymon added 12 points for the Vols.
It was an emotional evening as Tatum along with fellow seniors Renaldo Woolridge and Tyler Summitt were honored before the game. Tatum used that emotion to fuel the Vols past the Commodores and secure no worse than a third-place finish in the Southeastern Conference after being picked to finish 11th in the league before the season began.
"I thought we did a great job as a team," Tennessee head coach Cuonzo Martin said. "We played hard and competed against a very talented team. I told our guys that team can be a Final Four team because they have so many weapons. Tonight, our guys were ready to play."
Tennessee's biggest weapon was Tatum. It was his second-highest scoring output this season and his most in an SEC game, but he was quick to point out there's more basketball to be played.
"There's a lot more work left to do so we can't get too excited about it," Tatum said about the way Tennessee finished the regular season. "We have to go to the SEC Tournament with the same hunger and the same fight. It is a testament to how hard we fought and the way our guys came in and practiced every day to get better."
The victory gives Tennessee (18-13, 10-6 SEC) an opening-round bye in the SEC Tournament, which begins next week in New Orleans. The Vols also have won eight of their last nine games going into the most critical time of the season.
"I thought we were a pretty good team in SEC play," Martin said, admitting he didn't expect to have 10 conference wins. "You have to take your lumps. But I go back to the beginning. You've got a new coach, a new staff and a new system. We're changing the culture and defining what we expect."
A step toward changing the culture came with Saturday's victory.
The back-and-forth game swayed in Tennessee's favor when Tatum converted a three-point play to give the Vols a 37-33 lead with 17:24 remaining. A minute later, Jordan McRae rotated the ball to the corner and found Tatum for an open 3-pointer. Josh Richardson hit a layup in the paint to cap an 11-0 run by the Vols and make it 43-36.
The run shifted the game for the rest of the evening, despite Vanderbilt's efforts to play physical underneath and shoot the 3-point shot.
Tennessee led by as many as 9 when Tatum drained another 3-pointer with 8:04 to play to make it 51-42 Vols.
The Commodores were able to chip away down the stretch and cut Tennessee's lead to just 3 points when John Jenkins nailed a jumper and Jeffery Taylor got a layup to make it 56-53 at the 4:23 mark.
That was as close as the Commodores cut it as Tatum, Maymon and Golden made free throws down the stretch and Vanderbilt's quick-fire 3-pointers never found net.
"It feels really good," Golden said. "I think it feels good because of where we came from. We're not the same team that lost at the beginning of the season compared to now. To say we've made such a considerable growth in such a small period of time, I just think the sky's the limit."
The contest was tight the entire first half although Vanderbilt threatened to break free behind Jenkins. The shooter nailed three 3-pointers for the Commodores in a two-minute span. Brad Tinsley followed him with a 3 of his own, and the Commodores transformed Tennessee's 14-9 lead into a 21-15 advantage of their own.
Tennessee battled back, however, with a 3 from Golden and a layup by Stokes, and the two teams went neck-and-neck the rest of the first half with Tennessee holding a 30-29 edge at the break.
Jenkins led Vanderbilt with 18 points, followed by Lance Goulbourne's 12 points and Taylor's 10.
The difference in the game was in the paint. Vanderbilt held the 26-22 scoring edge in the lane, but the Vols outrebounded the Commodores 40-30.
"I think it's very significant," Vanderbilt head coach Gene Stallings said of the rebounding difference. "They made their free throws, they shot free throws better, they got to the line more, and they did the things you have to do to win. We didn't."
Martin gave credit to the 22,172 fans that created an electric environment and made it difficult for Vanderbilt (21-10, 10-6 SEC) to get into its offensive flow despite the physical game that the Commodores desired.
"That's what our guys and I appreciate, and that's what they need," Martin said. "It means so much to our program from a recruiting standpoint and to the players' psyche. A lot of credit to our fans for stepping up and representing like Tennessee knows how."
The Vols await the release of the bracket to know their potential opponents for Friday's second round. If Tennessee is the No. 2 seed, it will play at 7:30 p.m. ET. If the Vols are No. 3, they will play at 10 p.m. ET.