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Vescovi-James duo proves crucial in Tennessee 88-53 rout of Vanderbilt. “We love it when we share the ball like that.’’

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Santiago Vescovi took the pass, gathered his feet to the left of the 3-point line and let fly.

Splash. Vescovi drilled the long-range jumper to spark No. 8 Tennessee to a 51-20 halftime lead over hapless Vanderbilt at Thompson-Boling Arena Saturday night.

Vescovi finished with 12 points as he made four-of-five 3-pointers in an 88-53 rout of the Commodores (7-18, 2-10 SEC) to keep the Vols (19-6, 9-3 SEC) one game behind Alabama for the SEC regular-season championship.

The performance of Vescovi and Josiah-Jordan James against Vandy underscored how dangerous the Vols can be when their veteran fifth-year seniors are producing. James added 13 points (he was 3-for-5 on 3s), seven rebounds, three steals and two assists.

Vescovi and James combined for 25 points, 10 rebounds, seven assists, and made 8-of-10 from beyond the arc and 9-of-13 overall from the field.

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“That’s about as good a 20 minutes as we’ve put together all year,” UT coach Rick Barnes said, “and those two guys were responsible for it.’’

It’s hard to say Tennessee is unbeatable when Vescovi and James play well in the same game, but the Vols are hard to beat when they do.

Consider this: When the Vols won 103-92 over Kentucky in Rupp Arena, James and Vescovi combined for 37 points.

When the Vols fell behind 35-26 at Vanderbilt last month before rallying for a win, James went scoreless.

Vescovi and James have been in double figures together in just four games this season: Vanderbilt, Kentucky, Tarleton State and Illinois. The Vols won all four in impressive fashion.

But in UT’s three SEC losses, the duo combined for nine points at Texas A&M, five points at Mississippi State and 12 points against South Carolina.

Vescovi and James were part of a balanced attack against Vandy as all five starters scored in double figures, led by Dalton Knecht and Zakai Ziegler with 14 each, and Jonas Aidoo with 11.

Knecht, Ziegler and Vescovi each had five assists as the Vols totaled 28 assists against just seven turnovers.

“We’re at our best when we move the ball and move people,’’ Barnes said. “We try to create some confusion. … We love it when we share the ball like that.’’

Watching UT destroy Vanderbilt, it’s hard to imagine Tennessee was down nine points to Vandy with about a minute left in Nashville on Jan. 27.

This time was different. When UT took a 70-30 lead with 11:43 left in the game, the Vols had a 29-0 advantage in points off turnovers, a 22-0 edge in fast-break points and 23 assists to Vandy’s four. At that point, UT was 28 of 53 from the field and 12 of 26 on 3s.

Tennessee’s defense was also stout, holding Vandy to 33.3% shooting from the field, 7-of-25 on 3s. Guards Tyrin Lawrence and Ezra Manjon, who combined for 35 points in Nashville, had just 14 total Saturday night.

While UT had five in double digits, Tobe Awaka added nine off the bench as he was more assertive on the offensive end.

Six of UT’s top eight in the rotation played well. Only Jordan Gainey and Jamai Mashack (combined three points on 1-for-12 shooting) had off nights.

Barnes said one reason the Vols played so well was they respected Vanderbilt.

“The guys were really locked in,’’ Barnes said.

Barnes, who can be hard to please, was thrilled with his team’s effort.

“I’m a big rhythm person,’’ Barnes said, “and when a team is in rhythm, you want to ride that wave.’’

That wave is easier to ride when Vescovi and James are producing.

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