KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP)Santiago Vescovi and Julian Phillips each scored 15 points as No. 5 Tennessee recovered from a halftime deficit to pull out a 77-68 victory over Vanderbilt on Tuesday night.
Vescovi scored 12 of his points in the second half to lead the recovery for the Volunteers (14-2, 4-0 Southeastern Conference), who won their 25th straight game at Thompson-Boling Arena. Uros Plavsic contributed 11 points.
”(Vescovi) helped himself a lot (in the second half),” said Tennessee coach Rick Barnes. ”He was a little too casual (on offense) at the start.”
”(Vescovi) plays hard and aggressive,” said Vanderbilt coach Jerry Stackhouse. ”That’s a talent and a skillset on its own.”
Vandy’s 7-foot Liam Robbins won the battle of the big men with 18 points off the bench. Noah Shelby had 12 points (3 of 4 3-pointers) in the first half, but was silenced in the second. Jordan Wright added 13.
”(Robbins) had a game,” said Barnes. ”He got the ball where he wanted it.”
Zakai Zeigler, Tennessee’s sophomore guard, had nine assists, giving him 27 in the last three games.
”(Zeigler’s) getting better,” said Barnes. ”He’s learning. He was never a natural point guard. I’m excited to see how good he can get.”
Tennessee scored the first seven points of the first half and the first nine of the second half. The second half spurt allowed the Vols to recover from an intermission deficit.
Tennessee trailed at halftime, 39-37, for only the second time all season (Ole Miss was the other). Vanderbilt (8-8, 1-2) got all but three points in the first half from its starters. Shelby connected on three 3-pointers and had 12 points while Robbins had 11.
”I still think we had opportunities we left on the table,” Stackhouse said of his team’s first-half effort. ”We’ve been games for four years now. It’s on me and our staff to raise our level.”
”(The Commodores) got down but still stayed in it,” said Barnes. ”They take on (Stackhouse’s) personality. They don’t quit.”
The Commodores attacked the Vols’ suffocating defense. Vandy shot 39 percent (5 of 13) from 3-point range against a team that limits its opponents to 21 percent. Tennessee managed just 25 percent (3 of 12) from beyond the arc.
Tennessee, which has now won 25 straight games at home, took a step in the right direction by moving up three spots this week. The No. 5 Vols have now won five straight games and are keeping pace with Alabama, which is one spot ahead of them.
Vanderbilt: The Commodores are still searching for a signature win this season. An overtime victory over a struggling South Carolina team hardly fit the bill. . Liam Robbins, a 7-foot post player, has been an intimidating force. He has blocked 38 shots this season.
Tennessee: In his last two games, Vols forward Olivier Nkamhoua came into the Vanderbilt game having hit all 15 of his shot attempts. . Tennessee has extended its winning streak over Vanderbilt to 11 games. . Josiah-Jordan James Tuesday played in his third straight game after missing nine games this year with soreness in his knee. He was a preseason All-SEC selection this year.
Vanderbilt: The Commodores will face their second ranked team of the week when they entertain No. 15 Arkansas Saturday.
Tennessee: The Vols will go from one rival to another when they host Kentucky Saturday.