Jeffery Taylor’s last two outings against Tennessee were less than memorable.
It’s not likely anyone wearing black and gold, or orange for that matter, will forget the Vanderbilt forward’s performance on Tuesday.
Taylor scored a game-high 23 points as the Commodores smothered Tennessee in a 65-47 rout in front of a sellout crowd of 14,316 at Memorial Gymnasium.
The point total was the Vols’ lowest in the series since scoring 46 in a 14-point win in 1946. Taylor, considered a “premier defender” by Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings, played a big part in that, grabbing nine rebounds and nabbing four steals.
“He was complete,” Stallings said. “He was active defensively. He was active on the boards — both ends. He was active offensively. ... He just played a complete game. He played the way we needed him to play and the way he can play. He just was a very active player. And when Jeff is active, he is very, very good.”
Taylor was more of a threat than in his previous two Tennessee games — both losses — in which he combined for just 23 points on 9-of-24 shooting and only eight rebounds.
The Southeastern Conference’s third-leading scorer had 15 points by halftime and helped fuel his team's fast start. The Commodores (15-5, 5-1 SEC) never trailed and bounced back from an overtime loss to Mississippi State on Saturday. They scored the game’s first nine points and pulled away early with a 13-0 run.
Taylor’s two-handed dunk on a backdoor-cut pass from Kedren Johnson capped off the spurt and gave Vanderbilt a commanding 26-8 lead. Tennessee never got within 14 after that and another Taylor dunk — this one as he drove the baseline — extended the advantage to 40-21 heading into halftime.
“I’ve been hitting a lot of 3s so people can’t just play me as a driver anymore,” said Taylor, who was a perfect 3-for-3 from 3-point range. “I guess that makes it a little more difficult.”
The Commodores led by as many as 27 in the second half and won for the ninth time in 10 games. They also snapped a two-game skid against the Vols (9-11, 1-4).
“I think that first start got us the win almost because we hit them in the mouth so hard that it was easy for us to keep going with it,” Vanderbilt guard John Jenkins, who had 16 points, said. “Our biggest fear was having a letdown and we didn’t have too much of a letdown in the second half.”
Aside from Taylor, the story was seal-tight defense — an area that suffered in a second-half collapse to Mississippi State.
Jeronne Maymon accounted for nearly a third of their points and was the only Vol to score in double figures (15 points). Tennessee, coming off a win against defending national champ Connecticut, also shot a season-low 35.3 percent and committed a season-high 25 turnovers. It was the most takeaways by Vanderbilt all season and it converted them into 30 points.
Freshman Jarnell Stokes, playing in just his fourth game since enrolling at Tennessee earlier this month, committed a season-high seven turnovers and scored a season-low six points.
The 6-foot-8, 250-pounder seemed to be frustrated by the defense of 6-foot-11 Festus Ezeli (6-11 and 255 pounds). Things boiled over when the two players both received technical fouls after bumping into each other with 17:30 left in the game.
“It was kind of a little war down there and guys really getting after each other,” Stallings said. “I thought for the most part it was cleanly played and just very physical. That is the nature of the league and the nature of rivalry games and it was the nature of [Tuesday] for sure.”
• Tennessee reserve center Yemi Makanjuola was ejected with 1:25 left after he committed a flagrant foul against Jenkins.
After Jenkins made two free throws and began to walk back on defense, Makanjuola apparently “clotheslined” Jenkins, knocking him to the floor.
“I’d rather go back and watch the film and make sure but as John ran by the guy, I think he kind of clotheslined him a little bit and slammed him down,” Stallings said. “So that would certainly be reason for ejection. I’m kind of ashamed that happened.”
• Taylor and Ezeli each had nine rebounds but Lance Goulbourne was held to a season-low three as Vanderbilt was outrebounded (40-32) for the second straight game.
• It was Tennessee’s biggest loss in the SEC this season. The Volunteers had dropped their three previous league games by a combined 11 points. They have lost all six of their road games.
“If my team plays hard, I can deal with that,” Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin said. “If you are turning the ball over, you can’t find a chance to win.”