KNOXVILLE, Tenn. | Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl told Tyler Smith and J.P. Prince they'd have to be better leaders if the Volunteers wanted to overcome a sloppy January to make a run at the SEC title.
They finally proved to Pearl they were listening.
Smith scored a career-high 30 points, and Prince grabbed 10 rebounds and dished seven assists as Tennessee routed rival Vanderbilt 69-50 on Saturday.
"Me and J.P. have been hanging out a lot more off the court — before coach even came to us with that," Smith said. "I think that's carrying onto the court."
The win kept Tennessee (16-8, 7-3 Southeastern Conference) in a three-way tie with South Carolina and Kentucky for first in the SEC East.
Vanderbilt (15-9, 4-6) had been on a three-game winning streak after opening the SEC schedule 1-5.
"Vanderbilt right now, given how many games they have left, might not be playing for a championship, but they will have a lot to say in who wins the championship," Pearl said.
After splitting the series for the past two seasons, the Volunteers grabbed a sweep over the Commodores. Tennessee dominated the first game of the season in the series, a 76-63 win in Nashville.
Both teams entered the game on hot shooting streaks. The Vols shot 50.2 percent from the floor in their previous four games while the Commodores were averaging 51.8 percent in their last four.
On Saturday, Vandy shot 38.8 percent from the floor for the game while Tennessee sank 45.5 percent of its shots.
"I did not think we competed at the level we normally are used to our guys competing," Vandy coach Kevin Stallings said. "I thought we, for the first time, did not really fight like we normally fight, and that was disappointing."
After five lead changes and a tie at the beginning of the first half, it was Tennessee that heated up first. Down by a point, the Vols launched a 14-0 run, and an Emmanuel Negedu dunk gave them a 19-6 lead with 10:34 before halftime.
Vanderbilt got a couple of easy layups en route to an 8-0 run. A jumper by Brad Tinsley cut the Vols' lead to 21-16 with 5:06 left in the half.
Tennessee sank three free throws to take a 26-18 lead into halftime.
A 3-pointer by Smith and baskets off back-to-back steals by J.P. Prince and Brian Williams contributed to an 11-2 run by the Vols after halftime to give Tennessee a 44-26 lead with 13:31 left.
A Josh Tabb dunk with 12:12 left gave Tennessee a 20-point lead, it's largest of the game, and the Vols' margin never dipped below 13 points.
Smith, Tennessee's leading scorer with an average 17.2 points per game, beat his previous best of 28 points set his freshman year while playing for Iowa against Toledo on Nov. 17, 2006. J.P. Prince grabbed 10 rebounds.
"At Iowa there was only two players that was really scoring," Smith said. "With this team, we've got so many different players that can do so much, it never crossed my mind — I wasn't trying to go out there and get a new career high."
Tinsley and A.J. Ogilvy both scored 11 points for Vanderbilt.
After averaging only 12.3 turnovers in their last four games, the Commodores committed 23 against the Vols, who turned them into 21 points.
Tennessee had allowed an average 76.3 points per game through Jan. 17 but has held opponents to an average 63.4 points in the last eight contests.
"Tennessee did a nice job playing defense on us," said Vandy guard Jermaine Beal, who was limited to 3 points and committed five turnovers. "We did a poor job of taking care of the ball."