KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Jordan Bowden scored 17 points and clinched a victory by sinking two free throws with five seconds left as Tennessee outlasted Vanderbilt 65-61 on Tuesday night.
Tennessee went on a 12-0 run to grab a 61-48 lead with 2 ½ minutes left, but Vanderbilt made a furious rally. The Commodores got to within 63-61 as Saben Lee hit back-to-back 3-pointers in the final 22 seconds before Bowden put the game out of reach.
Tennessee (15-11, 7-6 SEC) withstood a 23-point performance from Vanderbilt guard Jordan Wright. The freshman reserve more than doubled his previous career high of 11, which he reached in back-to-back games against Florida and LSU earlier this month.
John Fulkerson scored 14 of his 17 points in the last 10 minutes for Tennessee, which also got 14 points from Santiago Vescovi. Lee had 18 points and Dylan Disu added 11 for Vanderbilt.
Vanderbilt (9-17, 1-12) has lost 32 of its last 33 SEC games, including two conference tournament contests. Vanderbilt has dropped four straight since a 99-90 victory over LSU that snapped an SEC record 26-game skid in regular-season conference games.
Tennessee has won each of the last six games in this in-state rivalry. Tennessee won 66-45 at Vanderbilt on Jan. 18 as the Commodores missed all 25 of their 3-point attempts, ending a string of 1,080 consecutive games in which they had made at least one 3-pointer.
Tennessee guard Josiah Jordan-James made his first start since returning from a groin injury but went scoreless in 13 minutes as he dealt with foul trouble. The 6-foot-6 freshman had started each of Tennessee’s first 20 games before the injury caused him to miss four contests. He returned to action Saturday and played 30 minutes off the bench in a 63-61 loss at South Carolina.
Vanderbilt: The Commodores are showing they can compete with quality SEC teams for a half. Now they need to figure out how to close the deal. Vanderbilt has led in the second half in four of its last five games but only has one win to show for it. The Commodores led at halftime in a win over LSU and in losses to Mississippi State and No. 10 Kentucky. They were tied at halftime and led by as many as five in the second half Tuesday.
Tennessee: The Vols kept their faint hopes of a third straight NCAA Tournament berth alive by winning this game, but they must have a big surge the rest of the way. That’s a tall order for a team that hasn’t won two straight games since Jan. 21. Tennessee’s schedule gets much tougher from here. The Vols’ remaining schedule includes two games with No. 13 Auburn, trips to Arkansas and Kentucky plus a home game with Florida.
Vanderbilt hosts Georgia on Saturday.
Tennessee is at No. 13 Auburn on Saturday.