Vanderbilt guard Jermaine Beal (0) looks to pass through the defense of Tennessee guard Melvin Goins (21) in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Nashville, Tenn., Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2010. (AP Photo/Frederick Breedon)
NASHVILLE -- Bruce Pearl said Vanderbilt pushed his Tennessee men's basketball team Tuesday night, and his Volunteers "didn't push back hard enough."
But how many free throws would Vanderbilt have shot against harder pushes?
The Commodores smashed the Vols 90-71 in large part because they went 37-for-43 from the free-throw line.
No Southeastern Conference team had made more than 26 in a single game this season until Tuesday night.
"We spent a lot of time watching them make free throws," said senior wing J.P. Prince, who led the Vols with 19 points. "You can't foul them like that. Forty-three free-throw attempts. It's as simple as that."
The 22nd-ranked Commodores (18-5, 7-2) took sole possession of second place in the SEC Eastern Division after completing their first regular-season sweep of UT in five years, while the 12th-ranked Vols (18-5, 6-3) dropped two games back from first-place Kentucky going into a Saturday night game in Rupp Arena.
UT fell behind 19-4 and nearly narrowed that gap to single digits before Vanderbilt pulled back away midway through the second half.
"We got outplayed," Pearl said. "We did not get off to a very good start, and that makes it hard on the road. We set a really bad tone. I thought we made a couple of good runs ... but it was too late.
"This puts us in really tough uphill battle to defend our SEC East championship. We're obviously disappointed with the way that we played."
Vanderbilt entered Tuesday night shooting just 69.1 percent from the free-throw line -- 148th out of the 334 teams in NCAA Division I.
The Commodores shot better than 85 percent in both halves Tuesday night -- 18-for-21 before the break, 19-for-22 afterward. UT made 13 of 21 free throws.
"Vanderbilt does a great job of getting to the foul line," Pearl said. "They drive it into contact. We try to drive it into contact, too."
The Vols watched Southern California shoot 28-for-34 from the foul line earlier this season, and that 22-point loss to the Trojans still stands as the worst in the Pearl era.
Commodores sophomore wing Jeffery Taylor led all scorers with a career-high 26 points, and nearly half of that came on 12-of-12 free-throw success.
"Obviously, you want to hit your free throws and work hard to get to the line," Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said. "We were stellar tonight, obviously, and that was a big factor in the game, to get there and convert."
That wasn't the only factor, though UT did make more field goals and 3-pointers than the Commodores. Vanderbilt again took it to the Vols in the opening minutes, controlling the game with a physical presence from all five positions.
Even Commodores junior center A.J. Ogilvy, known much more for his finesse than sheer physicality, got into the act. Ogilvy was fortunate not to get assessed a technical foul in the opening minutes, but he got caught the second time, shoving Steven Pearl after a whistle midway through the first half.
The tone had long since been set at that point, though, with Vanderbilt holding a 24-8 lead.
"We jumped out on them right away," Taylor said. "We got a lot of stops and scored on them right away. That was one of the best starts of the year.
"We put it all together tonight. We were able to stop their momentum."
Commodores senior point guard Jermaine Beal said sweeping the Vols in his last season was "good ... no, great, actually."
"Vanderbilt-Tennessee is a rivalry game," Beal added. "Tennessee doesn't like us too much. There was some pushing going on."
Coach Pearl was whistled for a first-half technical, too, and he had a quick conversation with UT men's athletic director Mike Hamilton during the second half because "there were a lot of things out there I wasn't happy about."
Vols freshman guard Skylar McBee was whistled for a flagrant foul in the second half, too, but things settled down after the scoreboard got out of hand.
UT started the second half with a 9-2 run, cutting Vandy's lead to 46-36 with 17:00 left. Prince missed a free-throw that would have narrowed the gap to single-digits, though, and Beal answered with a 3. Vols sophomore guard Scotty Hopson responded quickly with a driving layup, but UT got no closer. The Commodores' 17-1 spurt pushed their lead back to 66-39 with 12:38 left.
"We've had success against Vanderbilt. We've won in this building a couple of times," Pearl said. "But this is a tough matchup for us (this season), because of their size, their athleticism and their balance.
"We struggled against Georgia and we struggled against Vanderbilt, and we've got a very tough game coming up against Kentucky, and it's all because of the way that they're built. We've just got to try to play better from the start and not get down, and guys have to make more plays."
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