NASHVILLE — The theme printed on the “White-Out’’ T-shirts Vanderbilt handed out to students before its game Tuesday night against Tennessee was “War on 40.’’
But it was Tennessee taking the fight to the Commodores, and the majority of the 14,507 Vanderbilt fans surrendered with 2½ minutes left, fleeing Memorial Gym when Tyler Smith scored on a three-point play.
Smith’s basket and ensuing free throw gave UT a 14-point lead, and the Vols went on to win 76-63 before boarding their team bus for the trip back to Knoxville along Interstate 40.
Tennessee improved to 12-5, 3-1 in the SEC; while Vanderbilt dropped to 12-6, 1-3.
The Vols led from start to finish, bolting out to a 10-1 lead and holding the Commodores at arm’s length each time they made a run.
“We beat Vanderbilt the way they intended to beat us,’’ UT coach Bruce Pearl said. “Build a wall, play physical defense, make them beat you from the perimeter. We didn’t let a team that’s good in transition beat us in transition.’’
Vanderbilt hit just 34.5 percent of its shots from the field and was 6-of-23 (26.1 percent) beyond the 3-point arc.
The Vols went to Wayne Chism early and often. Chism came off the bench to score 20 points and lead UT scorers.
“I knew Kevin (Stallings) would have a game plan to go at him early,’’ Pearl said, referring to the foul troubles Chism has had in the early goings of past games.
Smith scored 16 of his 18 points in the second half, nine of those points coming in the final 3½ minutes, and J.P. Prince scored a season-high 16 points.
“I feel as close to 100 percent as I have all season,’’ said Prince, who has battled nagging shoulder and ankle injuries this season. “It was good to get my health back.’’
Pearl said it was good to see Chism set the pace. The 6-foot-9 junior dominated play after coming off the bench at the 16:45 mark and hit back-to-back 3-pointers en route to 16 first-half points.
Vanderbilt’s preseason first-team All-SEC center, A.J. Ogilvy, was held to seven points and four rebounds by Chism and fellow post Brian Williams.
The Vols led by as many as 11 points in the first half before settling for a 28-20 half time lead.
Vanderbilt, led by George Drake’s season-high 16 points, scored the first bucket of the second half to get to within six points. But the Commodores could get no closer, and UT led by as many as 18.
“They had some guys make shots and do things they haven’t been doing,’’ Stallings said. “Wayne gets eight points above his average, Prince gets eight points above his average. When they do that, it (winning) is not gonna happen.’’
The Vols return to action at 3:30 p.m. Saturday when they play host to Memphis in a game that will be televised by CBS (WVLT locally). The Commodores play host to Florida at 12:30 p.m. Sunday , also on WVLT.