NASHVILLE -- Dead in the water.
With its offense struggling in a place where it has had trouble winning, that's how Tennessee looked as it gathered during a timeout trailing 18th-ranked Vanderbilt by 11 points with 12:50 left in the second half Tuesday night.
"I was just telling the guys just to believe, man," UT's Melvin Goins said. "Believe in us, believe in yourself, believe in us as a team and believe that we can win this ballgame."
The Volunteers listened to their senior point guard. They erased their second-half deficit by outscoring the Commodores 29-9 in the final 12-plus minutes to steal a 60-51 Southeastern Conference win at Memorial Gym, where the Vols had lost five of their previous seven trips.
"I had my doubts early in the second half," UT coach Bruce Pearl said. "We didn't guard Vanderbilt early. I thought Melvin's toughness really helped us stay in the game.
"I thought we did a good job of getting the ball to the basket, and that was a factor. We were determined to get to the rim. Melvin got to the rim; Scotty [Hopson] got to the rim."
Hopson scored 19 points to lead UT (17-11, 7-6), which entered the game having lost four of its last five. Goins scored 15 points, including nine of the Vols' 15 in a stretch in which they trimmed the deficit to a basket. UT had overcome a 17-point in a home win over Vanderbilt last month.
Jeffery Taylor's basket put Vanderbilt (20-7, 8-5) up 51-49 with 5:02 left. UT held the Commodores without a point the rest of the way and made 11 of 12 free throws. The Vols were last in the SEC in free-throw attempts but shot 19 in the second half and finished with two more than the Commodores.
"Guys stayed poised," Hopson said. "Mel did a tremendous job of scoring the basketball. I knew guys would step up, stay poised, and I knew that once we got the game back in reach and got to the rim, we'd be fine."
UT needed its defense to jumpstart its struggling offense to battle back in the second half. Goins, Hopson and Steven Pearl had three steals each as part of UT's 15-theft performance, and the Vols scored 21 points off 16 Vanderbilt turnovers.
The combination of Cameron Tatum and Josh Bone held Vanderbilt's John Jenkins, the SEC's top scorer at 19.9 points per game, to 11 points on 4-of-13 shooting. Jenkins' only second-half points came on Vanderbilt's first possession.
"Defense, that wins championships," Goins said. "This was a championship-type ballgame here. Guys were in the passing lanes and playing real tough, hard-nosed defense."
Added Hopson: "I think that's where we won the basketball game."
Jeronne Maymon, who had played in just three SEC games previously, played nine minutes and started the second half at center instead of John Fields. That's when the Commodores turned a 31-27 lead into an 11-point advantage with an 11-4 run.
"I was disappointed the way we started the second half," Pearl said. "I made some changes in the starting lineup: That unit out there had given some us good energy. Jeronne wasn't as effective the second go-around.
"We finally gave our fans something to cheer about. We've put our fans through a lot this year -- on and off the court. It was good to reward them."
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Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...
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