KNOXVILLE -- Most have been concerned with how the University of Tennessee men's basketball team would combat foul problems with seniors Wayne Chism and Bobby Maze.
Wednesday showed what can happen when youngsters Scotty Hopson and Kenny Hall get in foul trouble.
Visiting Vanderbilt left Thompson-Boling Arena with a win for the first time coach Bruce Pearl's five-year tenure with the Vols. The Commodores pulled away midway through the second half and held on for an 85-76 victory.
"We can live with scoring 76 points, and we can live with shooting 44 percent -- even shooting 30 percent from 3," Pearl said. "But we can not live, and we can not win when we give up 51 percent shooting. It's the common denominator for all our losses."
No. 21 Vandy (16-3, 5-0 Southeastern Conference) kept its one-game lead in the SEC Eastern Division standings, while the 14th-ranked Vols (15-4, 3-2) dropped their second league game in five days.
UT stood on the verge of taking control early in the second half, but the game turned when Hall and Hopson were whistled for their fourth fouls in a two-possession stretch. Hopson went to the bench with 17:55 left, moments after Hall had done the same, but the Vols held a 39-35 lead.
The Vols kept their four-point lead for a while, but they didn't have Hopson's scoring and Hall's rebounding to answer Vandy's late run. And they needed them, because the Commodores caught fire.
A Brad Tinsley 3-pointer midway through the second half unlocked a tied game and ignited an 18-4 Vandy run. Jermaine Beal's 3 capped the spurt, giving the Commodores a 74-60 lead with 5:14 left.
Pearl's immediate timeout request could be heard across the court in a stunningly quiet Thompson-Boling.
The Vols briefly responded, pulling within 76-68 on a Hopson 3. UT got the ball back 15 seconds later with the same score, but Hopson stepped out of bounds while positioning himself for a wide open look from the corner. He then compounded the problem by promptly fouling out with 1:51 left.
"We lost some momentum ... and Vanderbilt's experience obviously took over in crucial situations in that game," Pearl said. "They made a bunch of shots, and we had a couple of empty possessions, and that was the difference in the game."
Pearl carefully watched his words when asked about a rough stretch in the second half that featured two technical fouls whistled on UT senior wing J.P. Prince in 63 seconds -- one a double-technical for a post-whistle scrum with Andre Walker, and one for hanging on the rim after a slam dunk that gave UT a 44-39 lead with 15:32 left.
Tinsley converted both free throws from the second technical, which infuriated the home fans and undoubtedly turned momentum.
"It's certainly a call that can be made, because he was on the rim," Pearl cautiously offered. "I've seen that call made, and I've seen that call not made."
Regardless, though, UT still led at that point. And, as senior point guard Bobby Maze said, "We can only blame ourselves for how we respond or don't respond to things."
"We can only control what we do, and there's a lot of things we should have done better," Maze added.
Perimeter shooting is definitely one of those things.
Hopson had been the only Vol to score behind the arc the past two games, and Wednesday wasn't much better -- Prince's unexpected 2-for-2 night. The rest of the Vols went a combined 1-for-13 from long range, while the confident Commodores went 8-for-14.
"One team was taking and making shots, and one team wasn't, and the team that made them won the game," Maze said. "I give them credit, because they're a good team, but we've got to defend better than that."
Chism battled for a second consecutive game on a sprained knee. He collected a game-high 16 rebounds but scored just eight points on 2-for-9 shooting. He also went just 4-for-8 from the free-throw line after not missing a single attempt in the past four games.
"I thought Wayne played with some courage, but obviously, offensively, he was not as effective," Pearl said.
Vandy coach Kevin Stallings called Beal's 25-point night "absolutely spectacular," and Pearl agreed it was "special."
Pearl didn't blame Maze for the defensive breakdown, saying the point guard's teammates let him down by failing to pick up Beal through ball screens.
"Man, phenomenal. He was just phenomenal," Commodores center A.J. Ogilvy said of Beal.
Added Tinsley: "Jermaine was unbelievable. That's one of the best games I've ever seen him play."
UT's tough week won't finish much easier than it started, either. The Vols host Florida (15-5, 4-2) on Sunday at 1 p.m.
"If we don't start focusing better, this is going to keep happening," Maze said. "The SEC's not just all of a sudden going to start getting easier."
Other contacts for Wes Rucker are www.twitter.com/wesrucker and www.facebook.com/tfpvolsbeat.