Where has this Tennessee basketball team been?
Vanderbilt Coach Kevin Stallings did Tennessee Coach Cuonzo Martin a favor earlier in the week when he railed on those Tennessee fans that were publicly calling for Martin's job. Stallings referred to them as "idiots.''
So Tennessee's players took matters into their own hands, blowing Vanderbilt off the map with a 76-38 boat-race beatdown at Thompson-Boling Arena.
A Vols defense that stayed consistent for 40 minutes was the difference.
"It's just consistency,'' Martin said. "Unfortunately for young guys, they base results and productivity on how many points they score. … They don't understand the value of good defense. It can take you a long way.''
Both teams had some tough luck coming into this game. The Vols were 3-3 in their last six games. The three losses were to Texas A&M by three points in overtime, at Mizzouri by two points and at home to now No. 1 Florida by nine points.
Vanderbilt, playing with only seven scholarship players during the last half of the SEC season, was 2-4 in its last six games before meeting the Vols.
Their four losses were at home to Florida by three points, at Missouri by three, at home to Arkansas by two and at home to Texas A&M by three.
You could expect that from Vanderbilt, a short-handed team that is 7-9 in the SEC. But the Vols were competing for a NCAA Tournament berth and those losses were more damaging to them. It made Saturday's game against Vanderbilt a must win for Martin and the Vols.
The Vols played like anything but an NCAA Tournament bubble team in jumping on Vanderbilt from the get-go. It was Tennessee's intensity that keyed the victory that saw them improve to 18-11 on the season and 9-7 inside the SEC.
Unfortunately, Tennessee hasn't played like this week-to-week. It is their inconsistency, especially against teams where the Vols have better players, which got Martin included in the hot seat conversation in the first place.
Vanderbilt looked more like a team whose coach's future is in question.
"We were beaten at every turn,'' Stallings admitted. "They got off to a great start and we were never able to do anything to negate anything they did. They were better than us the entire game.''
It was 14-4 in the first six minutes and 30-11 with six minutes left in the first half, thanks to a 10-0 run against Vanderbilt. By halftime the margin was 41-18.
The Vols shot 58 percent in the first 20 minutes and it took its toll on the Commodores, who finally smashed into the wall with their limited roster.
"I thought we were clicking on all cylinders,'' Martin understated.
Although the Vols have had trouble losing second half leads, senior Jerrone Maymon had a sermon for his team at intermission.
"Jerrone came in there at half and said, ‘We can't let off. We can't get too up.' We emphasized that we would come out here with the same intensity of the first half.'' said Vols point guard Antonio Barton.
It was more of the same in the second half. The Vols mounted a 56-23 lead with 16:05 left in the game. Vanderbilt's 38 points were the fewest in the series since 1947 when they had 21 against the Vols. The 38-point margin of victory was the largest in 185 games, dating back to 1922.
The numbers didn't lie.
Tennessee made 53.1 percent from the field and 47.6 percent from the 3-point line for the game. Vanderbilt hit only 22.4 percent from the field and was 3 of 15 from the 3-point line, only one of 10 in the second half.
"We couldn't score it inside and we couldn't score it outside,'' Stallings said. "We just had nothing.''
The Vols held a 23-6 margin in points off turnovers. They also won off the bench points 19-6.
Junior center Jarnell Stokes had his 17th double-double of the season for the Vols with 12 points, 11 boards. Barton shook off a shooting slump as the former Memphis Tiger put up a season high 21 points and a career tying five of seven 3-pointers.
Vanderbilt failed to put a player in double figures, as Kyle Fuller was tops with nine points.
Tennessee's challenge moving forward is to keep this defensive intensity at the same level as it did against Vanderbilt. They learned how important it was Saturday.
Contact wkrn.com Sports Columnist Joe Biddle at firstname.lastname@example.org.