KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Notching its 25th consecutive home victory, the fifth-ranked Tennessee Volunteers defeated in-state foe Vanderbilt, 77-68, Tuesday night at Thompson-Boling Arena.
The Vols (14-2, 4-0 SEC) now have the third-longest home win streak in the country.
Tennessee has now won 11 consecutive games against Vanderbilt (8-8, 1-2 SEC), matching UT’s longest win-streak in series history (1943-49).
UT dominated in the second half to secure the win. The offensive charge was led by Santiago Vescovi, who finished tied for the team-high in scoring with 15 points. The senior recorded 12 of those points in the second half, making 5-of-6 from the field and 2-of-3 from beyond the arc in the final 20 minutes. Vescovi has been in a groove of late, averaging 16.2 points and shooting 29-of-48 from the floor in the last five games.
The offense was largely facilitated by SEC Sixth Man of the Year candidate Zakai Zeigler, who has distributed the rock with precision in the last three games. He dished out nine assists Tuesday and is averaging 9.0 per game since the victory over Mississippi State on Jan. 3.
Vols freshman Julian Phillips also played a major roll in the scoring Tuesday night, dropping 15 points and pulling down six boards. Uros Plavsic was a force in the post, also carding a double-figure scoring total with 11. The 7-foot-1 big man also had himself a night on the defensive end, poking away a career-high three steals on the night, which led the Vol defense.
Vanderbilt (8-8, 1-2 SEC) hung around for much of the game and was propelled by Liam Robbins, who finished with 18 points and seven rebounds, both team-highs. Robbins went to the free-throw line a total of 12 times in the game, knocking down 10 of those shots.
Defense ruled early as Tennessee amassed three blocks before the first media timeout and did not allow a Commodore basket for the first 5:12 of play. But the battle was only beginning, as the two sides traded blows and clawed for momentum throughout the half. Tennessee built a lead as large as nine, but a scrappy Vandy team continued to chip away and earned its first lead of the game at the horn as Jordan Wright raced down the floor and rolled in a layup. The Dores held a 39-37 lead going into halftime, just the second time this year the Vols trailed at the break.
The Vols responded out of the half with urgency. Tennessee broke off a quick nine-point run, capped by a Tyreke Key 3-pointer, and never looked back. Each time during the second half that Vandy attempted to get back in the game, it was abruptly met by a UT answer, be it a trey from Vescovi at the 10:26 mark to counter a Commodore 3-pointer or an Olivier Nkhamhoua fadeaway jumper at the eight-minute mark to continue building a lead that grew for the remainder of the game, topping out at a 17-point margin with 3:16 left on the clock.
UP NEXT: Tennessee looks to keep up its strong start to Southeastern Conference play as the Vols welcome Kentucky to Thompson-Boling Arena on Saturday at noon ET on ESPN. VFL Chris Lofton’s jersey will be retired at halftime.
HOME WIN STREAK GROWS: Tennessee extended its home win streak to 25 games with Tuesday’s victory—a streak that dates to March 7, 2021. The Vols’ current home win streak is the sixth-longest in program history. Tennessee has also won 12 straight home games against conference opponents.
IN-STATE DOMINANCE: With Tuesday’s win, Tennessee notched its 11th straight win in the series against in-state rival Vanderbilt—tied for the longest winning streak by either team in the rivalry’s 101-year history.
Tennessee and Vanderbilt meet for a second time during the regular season in Nashville on Feb. 8.