Tennessee’s perfect home record was spoiled last month when Vanderbilt won at Knoxville, but Bruce Pearl’s team has looked good since the loss to its in-state rival.
Delivering some payback in Nashville would make it look even better.
The 12th-ranked Volunteers can position themselves for a shot at first place in the SEC East if they can earn a fourth straight victory Tuesday night by ending the 22nd-ranked Commodores’ 16-game home winning streak.
Tennessee (18-4, 6-2) had won its first 10 games at home heading into a visit from Vanderbilt on Jan. 27, when it was looking to regroup from a 15-point loss at Georgia four days earlier.
The Volunteers led 35-31 at halftime, but the Commodores (17-5, 6-2) responded with their best half of the season. Jermaine Beal, who made 2 of 17 shots in a pair of losses in the series last season, scored 17 of his 25 points in the final 20 minutes as Vanderbilt outscored Tennessee 54-41 en route to an 85-76 victory.
A.J. Ogilvy added 10 of his 12 after halftime.
“Beal was special,” Pearl said. “Part of our success against Vanderbilt in the past was that we had got the better of him. Everybody talks about A.J. Ogilvy and whether he’s a factor, but in my mind Beal has always been the guy that has made the team go.”
J.P. Prince scored 22 points on 9-of-10 shooting and Scott Hopson had 14 for the Volunteers, while Wayne Chism finished with 16 rebounds and five blocks. But Chism struggled to score, missing seven of his nine shots in addition to making just 4 of 8 free throws.
The winner of Tuesday’s game will claim sole possession of second place in the SEC East. The Volunteers visit No. 1 Kentucky on Saturday, meaning a win in Nashville can make that game a battle for the division’s top spot.
Chism also struggled in the loss to Georgia (3 of 10, six points), but as he’s bounced back, so has Tennessee. The senior big man has averaged 22.0 points in the Volunteers’ last three wins, including a career-high 30 in a 79-53 rout of visiting South Carolina on Saturday.
“When Wayne is able to do things like that, inside and out, defend like he did and lead the team, he is a very difficult matchup,” Pearl said. “South Carolina did not have an answer for him.”
Tennessee is 14-1 when Chism scores at least nine points. He had a game-high 20 off the bench in the Volunteers’ most recent trip to Nashville, a 76-63 win on Jan. 20, 2009.
Vanderbilt lost five days later at home to Florida, but hasn’t lost since. The Commodores have won their last 16 games at Memorial Gymnasium by 16.5 points per game, including eight SEC games by an average of 9.7 points.
They beat Mississippi State 75-72 in Nashville on Wednesday, but have dropped two road games since winning at Tennessee - falling 85-72 at Kentucky on Jan. 30, then shooting just 32.8 percent Saturday in a 72-58 loss at Georgia.
Beal and backcourt mate Brad Tinsley combined for 39 points on 14 of 28 shooting, but their teammates shot 6 of 31 (19.4 percent). Ogilvy had six points, ending his streak of 12 games in double figures.
“We’ve been shooting around 50 percent and tonight it didn’t seem like anyone could get one to drop,” coach Kevin Stallings said. “Brad and Jermaine were really good, but no one else could get anything going.”
Tennessee is 17-0 when holding opponents under 72 points.