NASHVILLE — Tennessee staged some so-called “Memorial Magic” of its own Tuesday night.
The Vols made an 11-point Vanderbilt lead disappear in the second half en route to a 60-51 victory before a crowd of 14,316 at Memorial Gymnasium.
The 18th-ranked Commodores (20-7, 8-5 SEC) took their largest lead of the game when Festus Ezeli (11 points) dunked with 13:03 left to make it 42-31 and bring the white-out crowd to its feet.
But Tennessee (17-11, 7-6) wasn’t finished. There was no sleight of hand in the Vols’ rally — just defense, rebounds and clutch drives to the basket.
“We didn’t want to lose,’’ Harris said matter-of-factly. “We knew we had to fight back.’’
And the fight off the court could start in earnest today. It’s expected UT will receive a Notice of Allegations from the NCAA. Two sources told the News Sentinel on Tuesday night that the letter, which will outline UT’s major violations, is expected to be received this week.
“When we receive it, we will release it as soon as possible,’’ UT athletic director Mike Hamilton said in a Tuesday night text message.
A Goins drive at the 9:43 mark sparked a 12-3 run that ended with a Hopson drive and basket with 5:25 left that tied the score at 49-49.
“When they got up big like that (11 points) I felt we needed a quick score to quiet the crowd,’’ said Goins, who along with Hopson and Steven Pearl had three steals. “We were able to keep our composure and stay focused and dialed in.’’
Vanderbilt’s Jeffery Taylor answered the UT run with a drive of his own that put the Commodores back on top at 51-49 with five minutes left.
But Hopson continued to assert himself, slicing and dicing through the lane, drawing contact and getting to the foul line where he hit six straight free throws as the Vols went up 55-51 with 1:14 left.
“I just tried to take my time at the line, get my breath, let the crowd quiet down a little,’’ Hopson said. “But they really didn’t quiet down much at all, so I just tried to stay poised.’’
In addition to scoring the pivotal points, Hopson’s drives served to get Vandy big men Ezeli and Steve Tchiengang fouled out.
Pearl said it’s obvious that Hopson has taken a big step in his ability to get to the rim this season.
“Those drives were all about Scotty not settling for a shot, and putting it on the floor,’’ Pearl said. “He’s always been able to get by the first guy, but now he’s able to get by his man and deal with the traffic.’’
While Hopson was driving, the Vols were defending; Taylor’s basket at the five-minute mark was the Commodores’ last in the game, as UT closed the night on an 11-0 run.
John Jenkins, who entered the game as the SEC’s leading scorer averaging 19.9 points per game, was held in check by Josh Bone.
Bone played 26 minutes in relief of Hopson and Cameron Tatum, harassing Jenkins into a 4-of-13 shooting night that led to only 11 points.
Bone also had five rebounds, as the Vols won the battle of the boards with a 37-31 rebounding advantage.
“Defense and rebounding is our identity,’’ UT coach Bruce Pearl said. “Mel Goins and Josh Bone played tremendous on defense.
“The bottom line is Vanderbilt shot only 30 percent in the second half, and we defended and hung in there.’’
Vanderbilt had won five straight entering the action and 14-1 at home.
The Commodores appeared on the verge of yet another win in Memorial Gym when they closed the first half on a 9-3 run to take a 31-27 lead into halftime.
The battle was furious from the onset, as the game featured four lead changes and five ties in the first half, with neither team leading by more than four points.
Tennessee returns to action at 6 p.m. Saturday against Mississippi State (14-12, 6-6).
UT Adjustments: The Vols opened the second half with a new-look lineup, as Harris slid from power forward to the post position and sophomore transfer Jeronne Maymon played at power forward.
Pearl also made the adjustment to return freshman Trae Golden to the back-up point guard duties in place of Skylar McBee, who handled that spot the previous two games.
State Champs: Pearl is 31-6 against in-state Division I teams in his five-plus years as the Vols’ head coach, and undefeated (8-0) this season.
UT’s wins this year include Chattanooga (82-62), Belmont, twice (85-76, 66-65), Middle Tennessee (86-56), UT Martin (68-62), Memphis (104-84), Vanderbilt (67-64, 60-51).