KNOXVILLE -- Enough was enough for the Tennessee men's basketball team.
By digging themselves out of a big hole Saturday afternoon, the Volunteers dug themselves out of an even bigger one in the process.
UT overcame a 17-point first-half deficit and rallied for a 67-64 win over visiting Vanderbilt at a boisterous Thompson-Boling Arena to avoid a third consecutive loss to open Southeastern Conference play.
"It says a lot about our kids, about being resilient," said UT associate head coach Tony Jones, who was filling in for the suspended Bruce Pearl.
"I talked to the team today about enough is enough: That was our mantra. You're a capable basketball team, you're capable players and you're coming up short."
Tennessee freshman Tobias Harris, who had 15 points and nine rebounds, converted the go-ahead layup from Cameron Tatum's pass with 1:09 left and calmly sank two free throws with 2.7 seconds left. They came after Vanderbilt committed a turnover and the Vols got a loose ball after a Melvin Goins miss.
"The mindset coming into this game was it was a championship game -- the only thing difference is we play next week," said Vols senior center Brian Williams, who had eight points and 12 rebounds (eight offensive) in 26 minutes off the bench. "We knew how physical Vandy is. I know how sore I'm going to be tomorrow, but the victory feels even better than that."
Williams and the rest of the Vols (11-6, 1-2) weren't feeling much of anything offensively in the first half. They made just seven of 35 shots from the field (20 percent) as the Commodores (12-4, 1-2) built a 30-13 lead behind John Jenkins. He scored 14 of his 21 points in the first half.
"I don't think guys panicked," said UT guard Scotty Hopson, who scored all but two of his team-leading 16 points after halftime.
"It's hard going to the next play; that's obviously what you've got to do, but it's hard. Guys just made an effort [in the second half] and made it apparent that we we're going to get to the rim relentlessly. We did that and it created offensive rebounds and easy buckets for us."
Said Jones: "I told our team [the first half] was an aberration -- we're better than that. Guys were just so pumped and jacked up before the game, and I was kind of afraid of that on the offensive end.
"I had a few choice words for them at halftime. I won't repeat any of them right now, but they responded. They wanted the game much more than Vanderbilt in my estimation in the second half."
Reserve guard Skylar McBee helped spur UT's comeback with 10 crucial points. He was fouled shooting a 3-pointer with 3.2 seconds left before halftime and sank all three to close a 7-0 spurt that cut UT's deficit to 30-20 in the final 1:32.
"From that last two minutes of the first half, we got it to 10 just like that," Williams said. "I knew that we had a chance to win the game, and our fans kept us in the whole time."
Added Hopson: "It helped us come out with that fierceness and competitiveness in the second half that we needed."
McBee later answered treys by Vanderbilt's Brad Tinsley (12 points) with a 3-pointer and a four-point play after UT had missed its first 11 3-point attempts.
"We needed him, we've been needing him [and] we know what type of dimension he can be for us as coaches, and that's the reason he's continuing to play," Jones said. "We haven't given up on him, and on this particular day he came up big."
UT shot 49 percent in the second half, scoring 26 of its 47 points in the paint. The Vols, who struggled defensively in losses to Arkansas and Florida, held the Commodores to 41 percent shooting and scored 16 points off 21 turnovers.
"Our goal is to win an SEC championship, and to be 0-3, I don't know if that could have happened," Jones said. "I told [the players] that your head coach, Bruce Pearl, would be extremely happy watching that game at his home because you exemplified his skills of having a never-say-die approach.
"We've been an inconsistent basketball team all year, and we've got to improve upon that. Hopefully this victory will do that."
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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 ...