Vols escape Vandy in OT to stay perfect in the SEC
Grant Williams scored a career-high 41 points and finished off a three-point play with 31.6 seconds left in overtime to put top-ranked Tennessee ahead to stay, and the Volunteers avoided a repeat of their last trip to Memorial Gym freshly minted as the nation's No. 1 team by holding off Vanderbilt 88-83 on Wednesday night.
The Volunteers (17-1, 6-0 Southeastern Conference) won their 13th straight game and first since moving to No. 1 in the AP Top 25 on Monday for the second time in program history. They also have won five of the last six against their in-state rival.
The Commodores (9-9, 0-6) came in hoping to pull off their seventh upset of a No. 1 team in Memorial Gym, a list of wins that includes knocking off Tennessee on Feb. 26, 2008, a day after the Vols took over the top-ranked spot. That squad was ranked in the Top 25, but these Commodores are off to the school's worst start in SEC play and have only one senior.
Williams went a career-best 23 of 23 at the free throw line. He scored Tennessee's first 10 points in overtime, and his three-point play came after Saben Lee's free throw gave Vandy its last lead at 82-81 with 41.5 seconds to go.
Jordan Bone added 14 for the Vols.
Tennessee trailed 76-70 before Williams rallied the Vols in the final 1:22 of regulation. He hit two free throws off a flagrant foul on Clevon Brown with 1:22 left. Williams then scored off an inbounds play to pull the Vols to 76-74, and Admiral Schofield hit a jumper with 38.1 seconds left to tie it at 76.
Williams blocked Lee's layup, then Aaron Nesmith blocked Jordan Bowden's layup try for the Vols. After a scramble for the ball, Williams came up with the steal and called timeout with 3.3 seconds to go. Brown blocked Williams' 3-point try, and the Vols couldn't get another shot off.
The Commodores not only outrebounded Tennessee, coach Bryce Drew got an impressive shooting performance from his team. Nesmith hit back-to-back 3s to tie it at 55 with 11:16 left, and the Commodores took their first lead since late in the second half at 56-55 on a free throw by Lee midway through the half.
Nesmith hit another 3 with 6:06 left to put Vandy up 64-61, and a 3 by Lee gave the Commodores their biggest lead of the game at 70-65 with 3:47 remaining to set up a thrilling finish.
Nesmith had a career-high 24 points, Lee added 21, Ryan 12 and Simisola Shittu 10.
The Vols missed a couple of chances in the final seconds before taking a 38-37 lead into halftime. They never led by more than six in the second half.
Tennessee: The Vols have their longest winning streak in nearly a century - they opened the 1922-23 season by winning their first 14 games. The defending co-SEC regular-season champs have won 10 straight league games in regular-season play.
Vanderbilt: The Commodores' worst start to SEC play now is six straight losses, but this has to be a strong confidence booster for a group that has led in all but one of those games.
THE RECORD BOOK
Williams had the best scoring performance for Tennessee since Allan Houston had 43 points against LSU on Feb. 10, 1990, and it was tied for fifth in school history. It was the most points allowed by Vanderbilt to one player since Jan. 3, 2007, when Morris Almond scored 44 for Rice.
Tennessee: Hosts West Virginia on Saturday.
Vanderbilt: Visits Oklahoma on Saturday.