NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP)—Tennessee’s first stint as the No. 1 team in the country will likely be brief.
A day after reaching the top spot for the first time in school history, the Volunteers were upset by No. 18 Vanderbilt 72-69 on Tuesday night.
No worries, say the Vols.
“I want to be ranked No. 1 at the end of the year,” senior guard Chris Lofton said.
The Volunteers will remain No. 1 until the next poll Monday, then will probably drop after Shan Foster scored 32 points to lead the Commodores.
The Vols (25-3, 11-2 Southeastern Conference) beat then-No. 1 Memphis on Saturday night 66-62 on the western edge of Tennessee for their ninth straight victory to earn that spot themselves, then had to travel back to the middle part of the state to defend their top ranking for the first time.
Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl said his Vols were fine, not exhausted by two emotional and physical road games against instate rivals in about 72 hours.
“I thought we put ourselves in a position in the second half on the road to be able to gut one out again, and they got a period there in the second half defensively where we just fouled them and sent them to the foul line a boatload of times. I thought that was a real difference,” Pearl said.
Vanderbilt (24-4, 9-4) has hosted the No. 1 team nine times in its 56 years at Memorial Gym, and the Commodores improved to 6-3 overall in those games with victories in the past four, including then-No. 1 Florida last year. The Commodores also now have won all 18 home games this season and 31 of their last 32.
“It’s special,” Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said. “We needed a win. It was a home game. It’s a big game for them. You want to win any game, but you certainly want to win big games. This was a big game.”
Jermaine Beal added 17 points and Alex Gordon 11 as Vanderbilt won its seventh straight with its first victory over a ranked team in its third try this season. The Dores moved within a half-game of Kentucky for second in the SEC East. Kentucky trails the Vols by one game in the loss column with three to play, visiting Tennessee on Sunday.
Lofton led Tennessee with 25 points. Tyler Smith, playing with the flu, had 11 points and a career-high 17 rebounds.
“We play best when everybody contributes and tonight we just did not get a lot of contributions from a lot of guys that normally do,” Pearl said.
Lofton said Vanderbilt deserved the credit.
“They came out with the passion and played with more intensity than us. They wanted it more than us tonight, and it showed. They got the win and they deserved it,” he said.
The Commodores celebrated by high-fiving classmates as they walked and skipped between the student section and the campus officers keeping them off the court.
These rivals separated by less than 200 miles hadn’t played in Nashville with both ranked since 1968. Vandy won that game also.
This time, the Commodores had a sellout crowd making it even louder than what the Vols faced from a bigger group in Memphis’ FedExForum. In Memorial, sound just rolls off the cinder block walls and back onto the floor, and one sign summed up the Vols’ fate: “Enjoy Second Place Next Week.”
The combination of the travel and quick turnaround showed in the first half as the Vols hit only eight of 34 shots, too often shooting away from beyond the 3-point line where they hit only 5-of-17. They finished 20-of-61 in a game where the teams combined for 53 fouls that made the second half seemingly last forever.
Stallings said he thought his Commodores contested most of Tennessee’s shots. Vandy hit 19-of-49 from the floor, and he said he felt both teams missed open shots.
“It didn’t feel like Lofton missed any. We held them to 33 percent for the game. Some of that had to be our defense. I’m proud of that,” Stallings said.
Wayne Chism, who had 18 points and 18 rebounds when Tennessee beat Vandy in Knoxville 80-60 last month, had four points and four rebounds.
“I thought we got punked in Knoxville,” Foster said. “We wanted to show we were a different team.”
Vanderbilt led 31-28 at the break after nearly blowing a 14-point lead in the opening half. The teams swapped the lead four times with three ties before Alan Metcalfe’s 3-pointer broke a 43-all tie with 14:20 left, and Vandy never trailed again.
Tennessee stayed close enough to keep sending Vandy to the free throw line and pulled within 72-69 on Chism’s dunk with 7.5 seconds.
But Ross Neltner got the ball past the Vols’ pressing defense, Foster threw it upcourt to Keegan Bell. The Vols fouled him with 1.8 seconds left, and he missed both attempts. But a late throw at the basket went deep into the seats after the buzzer.
Vanderbilt nearly ran Tennessee out of the gym in the opening minutes by scoring 10 of the first 13 points and jumping out 23-9 on A.J. Ogilvy’s dunk with 10:36 left in the first half. Then they went cold, finishing by hitting only two of their final 12 shots. They went nearly seven minutes between field goals before Foster hit his fourth 3 with 3:57 to go.
Tennessee answered with a 14-3 spurt, and Lofton missed a chance to tie it going into the half with an off-target 3 over two defenders just before the buzzer.