KNOXVILLE — J.P. Prince threw a punch, which got him into a little bit of trouble.
Not long after, though, Tennessee’s senior forward nearly delivered a knockout blow with five straight points after the Volunteers had surrendered a four-point halftime lead in just over three minutes.
Even his toughness — as he racked up a team-high 22 points (one short of his career-high) — was not enough, though, as UT fell 85-76 to Vanderbilt on Wednesday at Thompson-Boling Arena.
“I think J.P. really stepped up,” coach Bruce Pearl said. “He had positive energy and an inner confidence.
“J.P. is one of our best players now. He was always a very effective player and one of the important pieces to our puzzle, but now he is one of our best players and he's playing like it.”
Prince was 9-for-10 from the field, including 2-for-2 on 3-pointers as he topped 20 points for the first time in 2009-10. He also had four rebounds, three assists and a team-high three steals in 29 minutes of play.
Additionally, he was assessed a pair of technical fouls.
The first came via an emotional outburst. He took a swing at Vanderbilt’s Andre Walker after the whistle with 16:37. Walker’s response earned him a technical at the same time.
The second came with the conclusion of his offensive outburst. After his 3-pointer with 16:14 to play broke a 39-39 tie, his running dunk 40 seconds later made it 44-39. He hung on the rim after the dunk though and was assessed another technical.
By rule, two technical fouls means a player is disqualified. In this case, though, there was a difference in the type of technicals.
“The last one was an ‘indirect technical,’ which I don’t know what that means,” Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said. “… It’s (the officials’) job to know the rules, and they do. … It’s good that they know because I sure didn’t.”
Even though Prince was not ejected, that call did have a punitive effect. Jermaine Beal made the resultant free throws and briefly cut the deficit back to three. Just over six minutes later the Commodores went in front.
“At one point in the second half we lost the momentum,” Pearl said. “The technical foul on J.P. Prince's dunk was — at that point — a momentum shifter.
“Vanderbilt's experience obviously took over in crucial situations in the game. They made a bunch of shots and we had a couple of empty possessions, and that was the difference in the game.”
In other words, the Commodores were able to get up off the deck.