KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee guard Jordan Bowden disagreed with his coach’s assessment this week that the sophomore guard wasn’t slumping.
He made sure to break out in a big way on Tuesday night.
Bowden scored 19 points and shot 5 of 7 from 3-point range as Tennessee built a 20-point second-half lead before hanging on for a 67-62 victory over Vanderbilt.
“Mainly it was my teammates who just kept telling me to keep shooting the ball, keep shooting the ball,” Bowden said. “Derrick Walker, before every game, he tells me, ‘You’re the best shooter in the country.’ It gives me that confidence every game.”
Tennessee (14-5, 5-3 Southeastern Conference) earned its fifth win in six games and withstood a brilliant performance from Vanderbilt’s Riley LaChance, who scored all of his 25 points in the second half as the Commodores got to within two in the closing minutes.
Bowden is shooting 53.8 percent (35 of 65) from 3-point range this season. His efficient night came after he had just two points in a loss at Missouri and went scoreless in a victory at South Carolina last week.
Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said Monday he didn’t think Bowden was in a slump. Barnes noted at the time that a slumping player “won’t take the shots he should take” and that Bowden was avoiding that trap.
Bowden said he did believe he was slumping, and his relief was evident when his shots started falling against Vanderbilt.
“What I’ve been waiting on for the past two games, finally seeing one go in,” Bowden said. “It was a good thing to see.”
After leading 41-21 with 14½ minutes left, Tennessee barely survived.
Tennessee was clinging to a 60-58 advantage after Vanderbilt’s Jeff Roberson made one of two free-throw attempts with 1:19 remaining. Tennessee’s Lamonte’ Turner answered by sinking a 3-pointer with 1:03 left.
LaChance missed a 3-point attempt on Vanderbilt’s next possession to set up a layup by Bowden that extended Tennessee’s lead to 65-58 with 33 seconds remaining. The Vols’ advantage wouldn’t drop below five the rest of the way.
“They got back in the game, but at the end we found a way,” Barnes said. “Lamonte’ Turner’s shot was a big one.”
The Commodores were seeking to beat Tennessee in Knoxville for a fourth straight season, but poor shooting nearly knocked Vanderbilt out of contention early.
Vanderbilt’s Payton Willis made a 3-pointer 40 seconds into the game to open the scoring, but the Commodores missed their next 17 3-point attempts before LaChance heated up.
LaChance went 4 of 4 from 3-point range in a span of 2½ minutes and ended up scoring 15 straight Vanderbilt points to start the rally. But his huge second half couldn’t reduce the sting of a loss to an in-state rival.
“We lost, so we’re all very disappointed,” LaChance said. “The way we played the first half was nowhere near how hard and how well we need to play.”
Roberson added 21 points for Vanderbilt. Grant Williams had 18 points for Tennessee.
Vanderbilt: The Commodores showed plenty of fight to get back into the game, but the first half also showed how hard it is for Vanderbilt to find offense when its 3-point shots aren’t falling. Promising freshman guard Saben Lee went scoreless in 20 minutes and wasn’t on the floor during the Commodores’ comeback.
Tennessee: Derrick Walker continues to show he could add some depth to Tennessee’s frontcourt the rest of the season. The freshman scored 10 points Saturday in a victory at South Carolina to double his previous career high. He followed that up Tuesday by collecting five points and six rebounds in just 17 minutes.
Vanderbilt announced before the game that senior guard Matthew Fisher-Davis would miss the rest of the season with an injured right shoulder. Fisher-Davis has made 70 career starts and was averaging 11.9 points per game to rank second on the team.
The Commodores have gone 1-2 since Fisher-Davis’ injury.
LaChance and Roberson shot a combined 17 of 32 and teamed up for 46 points. The rest of Vanderbilt’s roster shot 6 of 25 and combined for just 16 points. … LaChance was 4 of 9 from 3-point range, while all the other Commodores were 1 of 15.
Vanderbilt hosts TCU on Saturday.
Tennessee is at Iowa State on Saturday.
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