Wiedmer: Vols will take an ugly win

Wiedmer: Vols will take an ugly win

February 14th, 2013 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

Vols T logo

Vols T logo

NASHVILLE - Sometimes you paint with oils on canvas. Sometimes you spread toothpaste over black velvet.

If you want to consider which best described Tennessee's basketball team during the second half of Wednesday night's 58-46 win over Vanderbilt, consider that the Vols scored 18 points in the first 18 minutes of the final period and ... increased ... their ... halftime ... lead.

And, no, just because Cuonzo Martin wore a Clorox orange sports coat to honor the late, great Big Orange boss Ray Mears doesn't mean the SEC did the same by banning the shot clock in tribute to a coach who played stall ball with the best of them.

No, the shot clock remained, which meant each team was forced to throw up at least one brick every 35 seconds it had the ball.

"We wanted to make them go inside," said Martin of the 11 3-pointers the Commodores missed overall, including all eight of their second-half attempts. "They hit 10 (actually 8) 3-pointers a game. We felt like we had to take that away."

What Volniacs should take from their team's second straight road victory is that this cumbersome, confounding squad -- for so long so inept away from home -- is suddenly within a Saturday home win against Kentucky of standing 6-6 in the SEC.

Now 13-10 overall, the Vols are still quite unlikely to talk about the NCAA Tournament, but the NIT now seems more probable than pipe dream.

Or as sophomore center Jarnell Stokes noted after racking up his sixth straight double-double with a 17-point, 10-rebound effort that included five blocks: "I don't know why we haven't done this all season."

They did it to the Commodores because this was one of those nights when VU coach Kevin Stallings' young, inexperienced squad played like what it is -- the 322nd most experienced team in the country among 347 Division I schools. Vandy doesn't wear Nike. It wears Gymboree.

The Crib-odores had more turnovers (11) than assists (10), hit but three of six free throws largely because they were shooting so poorly overall (37.7 percent) that there was no need for the Vols to foul them and got crushed on the boards (38-28).

It marked the fifth time this season that Vandy has failed to score as many as 50 points in a game. Given that the 'Dores didn't surpass the football team's 41 points against UT until a little over four minutes remained, maybe Vandy really is becoming a football school.

Yet some aspects of Wednesday's game brought comforting familiarity. The Commodores seemed intent on raining 3-pointers from the opening whistle, which is befitting a school that's now hit at least one triple in 855 straight games, the nation's second longest streak behind Nevada-Las Vegas.

As previously mentioned, Martin held tight to the recent Vols coaching tradition begun by Bruce Pearl of wearing a Clorox orange blazer to honor Mears.

But there was also much different about this night from typical VU-UT clashes touched by Memorial Gym's magic, beginning with all the empty benches in the Vandy student section.

This wasn't winter break or a midterm exams week, so unless the Commodores' student body gave up men's college basketball for Lent, there was seemingly no excuse for at least 35 percent of the student section being empty.

Nor were these the offensively challenged Vols of recent weeks. At least not in the opening half.

With Stokes scoring 14 points in the first 20 minutes -- including a deep 2-pointer from straight away that he banked through the net -- and Trae Golden totaling 11 by intermission, UT had 40 on the board at halftime, which is more than they totaled in entire games during losses to Virginia and Georgetown.

Of course, 10 minutes into the second half the Vols had scored but 10 more, but with Vandy on the same pace, the UT lead remained at 12.

What all of this means going forward won't become clearer until after UK visits on Saturday, the No. 25 Wildcats arriving seriously wounded by center Nerlens Noel's season-ending knee injury.

But Martin certainly sounded like a coach believing his team was onto something good.

"This felt great," he said, brushing aside a stagnant second half. "We got a 'W.' Now let's move forward."

Too bad they haven't played this way all season.