As the game turned: Just like the new LED light fixtures that hung in the rafters of Thompson-Boling Arena, the Tennessee Volunteers shined bright from the opening tip in their 76-38 victory over the Vanderbilt Commodores.
A high level of intensity on the defensive end fueled a hot start on offense, as the Vols jumped out to a double digit lead by the 14:33 mark in the first half.
The Vols were especially effective from 3-point range, connecting on five of their first eight attempts from downtown, three of which came from senior guard Antonio Barton.
“Everybody was just locked in,” Barton said. “Practice has been competitive. We watched a lot of film. We took that last game personal. They came in and hit us in the mouth hard and we wanted to come back this game and stop that."
Hot topic: It was almost two months ago that Texas A&M’s Kevin Space broke Tennessee’s heart for the first time, but that memory is still fresh in the minds of the Volunteer faithful.
The Vols took a 14-point halftime lead into that contest following a half in which they forced the Aggies to just 25 percent shooting.
On Saturday, the Vols had a similar first half, holding the Commodores to just 18 points on 31.8 percent shooting.
“We have been known to come out in the second half and let teams back into the game,” Barton said. “We emphasized that we would come out here with the same intensity of the first half."
And that’s exactly what they did, holding Vanderbilt to four field goals in the second half and forcing them to shoot a meager 14.8 percent.
“That's something we talk about every day. It's not just in each particular game,” head coach Cuonzo Martin said. “Again, that's basketball players taking it from one end to the other – taking the scouting report to the floor consistently. We talk about having relentless focus and dedication to your craft. When we're consistent, these are some of the results.
“Hopefully when shots don't fall, we can still defend and play hard at this level."
Spotlight: As one of the first off the bench and one of the best defenders on team, Armani Moore has started to make a name for himself.
The sophomore guard scored eight points – his third highest output of the season – on 4-of-6 shooting, but his biggest play of the day came on the opposite end of the floor.
With 5:16 remaining in the game, Vanderbilt’s Damien Jones drove the basket and laid one up, only to see it be sent into the crowd by Moore.
Highlight reel blocks are nothing new to the Kennesaw, Ga. native – his block against Georgia back on Feb. 18 was ranked No. 6 on SportsCenter’s Top 10 – but he said that those kind of plays get him going as a player.
“A lot of people have certain things that get them going in a ballgame, and for me my thing is a blocked shot,” Moore said. “That’s one thing I take pride in because that is on the defensive side of the ball.”
The other guys: Rod Odom, who torched the Vols for 26 points back on Feb. 5, made only one basket and scored four points.
Kyle Fuller scored a team-high nine points on 4-of-11 shooting for the Commodores.
Outside the box score: Dale Ellis, a former Tennessee player from 1979-83, had his No. 14 retired before the game.
The two-time SEC Player of the Year became the fourth men’s player to have his number retired.
Say something: When asked about what he remembered in the game that he scored 21 against Tennessee back on Nov. 22, 2011, Barton said, “(All my points) we’re all on Josh Richardson. Me and him joke about this every day and I tell him every time he was guarding me so he caught all 21.”
By the numbers
11: Vanderbilt made 11 field goals in the game. They shot 22.4 percent from the floor, the lowest a UT opponent has shot all season.
5: Antonio Barton drained five threes, a season-high. It also tied a career-high that he set against Tennessee State while at Memphis.
23: Tennessee scored 23 points off of 14 Vanderbilt turnovers.
Up next: The Vols now shift their focus to the Auburn Tigers, who they will face in the Auburn Arena on Wednesday at 8 p.m.