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February 26, 2008
NASHVILLE ? Wearing the No. 1 didn't exactly fit to a 'T.'
In the first game in school history as the nation's top-ranked team, Tennessee was knocked off by SEC East rival Vanderbilt 72-69 on Tuesday in front of a sellout crowd at Memorial Gym. Commodores senior Shan Foster poured in 32 points, and sophomore Jermaine Beal added 17.
Chris Lofton led the Vols with 25 points, and Tyler Smith contributed 11 points and a career-high 17 rebounds. But it wasn't enough as UT (25-3 overall, 11-2 in the SEC) stumbled after beating then-No. 1 Memphis on the road Saturday to rise to never-before-seen heights.
"It's disappointing, but I'd rather be ranked No. 1 at the end of the year," Lofton said.
It was the fourth consecutive time Vanderbilt (24-4, 9-4) had beaten a No. 1 team at home. Last season, the Commodores ripped No. 1 Florida 83-70. They also ran their home record this season to 18-0.
"The whole No. 1 thing -- it was good for the program and made our school look good, but that wasn't our main focus," Tennessee forward Duke Crews said. "Our main focus is to win the SEC championship. Going into the Memphis game, win or lose, this is a bigger game for us. This is a lot harder than if we had lost at Memphis and won here.
"We're trying to win the SEC championship, so now we have to get these next three games."
The Vols last led at the 15:03 mark of the second half, holding a 43-41 advantage. But the Commodores went on a 7-0 run and never trailed again. Tennessee got it to 70-67 after Ramar Smith converted a three-point play with 22 seconds to go, but Foster hit two free throws to push it back to five.
Wayne Chism's dunk with seven seconds left made it 72-69, but Vandy was able to get the ball inbounds and down the floor before Keegan Bell was fouled with 1.8 seconds on the clock. He missed both free throws, but JaJuan Smith's desperation heave was well off the mark.
The game was marred by 53 fouls, 27 on Tennessee, and three technical fouls. Vanderbilt shot 37 free throws and Tennessee went to the line 32 times.
"It was a hard-fought battle by both teams that lacked any rhythm because of all the fouls and trips to the line," Commodores coach Kevin Stallings said. "It wasn't a game of particularly good shooting. We had a lot of missed foul shots, but the game was what you'd expect when these two programs play each other."
Each team had one player foul out.
"We were fouling," Lofton said. "We put them on the line, and they're a great free-throw shooting team. We can't just panic and foul late in the clock, and that's what we did."
Tennessee never quite looked comfortable as the nation's No. 1 team. They shot only 23.5 percent (8-of-34) in the first half and finished the game shooting 32.8 percent.
Coach Bruce Pearl and his players downplayed any talk that they may have been physically and emotionally drained from the win at Memphis, but the Vols didn't get out and run much on offense and their pressure hardly bothered Vanderbilt. The Commodores committed only eight turnovers.
"It wasn't a factor (the Memphis game)," Pearl said. "Tyler Smith played with such passion and such energy, and Chris Lofton played well. But we play best when everybody contributes and we just did not get a lot of contributions from a lot of guys that normally do."
JaJuan Smith, the Vols' second-leading scorer, attempted only six shots, his second-fewest in SEC play. He finished with nine points. Pearl said JaJuan Smith didn't get enough touches and also was critical of his point guards.
"We have got to get better point-guard play, I can tell you that," Pearl said. "Without a leader, it's difficult from the bench to try to set the table too much. Those guys have got to do a better job of leading the team."
JaJuan Smith felt as though the Vols didn't get out and run like they should have.
"We've got to put the 'fast' back into fast break," he said. "We're not doing that and that's our offense. We're starting to play other teams' ball and letting them take control of the game, and we got to get back and be more aggressive.
"I think I'm a great player in transition and a good player in the halfcourt. We didn't get our transition buckets going and that's where I'm most dangerous. We didn't get too many transition plays to get me going. That's part of me not running the floor. And I have to take the blame off my point guards because I got to get rebounds and push it as well."
Notes: Vanderbilt's Foster is 19 points away from surpassing Matt Freije as the Commodores' leading career scorer. ? No opponent has topped 50-percent shooting against Vanderbilt this season. ? Commodores freshman center A.J. Ogilvy was held under 10 points for just the second time in his career. Limited by foul trouble, he scored just four points. ? Inclement weather forced the Vols to spend the night in Nashville. They had bused from Knoxville.
Bob McClellan is the college basketball editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.