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January 14, 2010

Late freebie gives Vandy a win in Tuscaloosa

Vanderbilt missed an uncharacteristic amount of free throws on Wednesday night in Tuscaloosa.

But in the end, the Commodores hit exactly as many as they needed.

The last success, the second of a two-shot trip for Vanderbilt's Jeff Taylor, tickled the twine with six seconds left. On 'Bama's last possession, VU double-teamed Anthony Brock and forced a miss to give the Commodores a thrilling 65-64 road victory over Alabama at Coleman Coliseum.

Vanderbilt (13-3, 2-0 Southeastern Conference) shot just 39.2 percent from the field, and 54 percent (20-of-37) from the line, and missed several foul shots that could have put the game away before Taylor's sealed the victory.

"On a night where we didn't play very well, where we didn't play anywhere near our best basketball, we were still able to get a tough road win. A lot of that had to do with Alabama, I thought their defense was really good the whole night," Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said.

Vandy managed to win by committing just eight turnovers against the Crimson Tide press, and scoring 20 points off the 'Tide's 13 miscues. And the Commodores weren't alone in their charity stripe futility, as Alabama converted just 10 of its 17 tries.

Taylor (13 points), A.J. Ogilvy (13), Jermaine Beal (11) and John Jenkins (11) scored in double-digits for Vandy, offsetting a phenomenal 23-point performance from Alabama point guard Mikhail Torrance, who was 9-of-13 from the field and handed out a game-high six assists.

The Commodores trailed nearly the entire game after Alabama took a nine-point lead out of the gate, and were down seven at the half. VU tied the game for the first time all evening when Jenkins hit a layup with 9:48 left, and took its first lead nine seconds later when Jenkins hit a 3.

It capped a 14-3 run by the Commodores over a 3:45 span, but Alabama's Justin Knox hit a pair of free throws 1:04 later to put the Crimson Tide ahead again.

The lead see-sawed back and forth from there; Alabama's Chris Hines hit a free throw with 4:55 to give Alabama a 60-56 lead, but missed a second toss.

Beal answered with a pair of foul shots, but Torrance hit a driving lay-up to extend the margin back to four.

The Commodores then went to Ogilvy in the low post on three successive trips as Alabama star center JaMychal Green was plagued with four fouls. Ogilvy drew a pair of free throws each trip, but managed to hit just three of them, missing the last two with 2:16 left as VU trailed by one.

Taylor hit 1-of-2 charity tosses at the 1:37 mark to tie the game. After 'Bama's Charvez Davis missed a 3 and Vandy's Brad Tinsley rebounded, Beal drove the right baseline and hit a pull-up jumper to give Vandy a 64-62 lead with 46.5 seconds left.

VU's Festus Ezeli fouled out when he guarded Green too aggressively in trying to force a turnover on the next possession. Alabama's star center, whose seven points were less than half his average, then drilled a pair of free throws with 35 seconds left.

The Commodores then milked the shot clock before the ball to Taylor on the right sideline. Taylor dribbled into the paint before Alabama's Tony Mitchell fouled him as VU was in the double-bonus, setting the stage for the game-winning free throw.

After Taylor hit the second, Stallings called timeout to set his defense, electing not to guard the in-bounds passer and ordering his team not to let Torrance get the ball.

"I thought on the last possession of the game we did a great job of not letting him get the ball. If somebody else was going to beat us, it wasn't going to be him if I had anything to do with it," Stallings said.

"So we double teamed him and they threw it into Brock and he got amongst the trees and that was a good thing for us."

The 5-foot-9 Brock, who dribbled down the right side of the floor, got sandwiched between a pair of Commodore defenders around the foul line, and threw up a weak attempt that missed just before time expired.

Officiating was a focal point for much of the night in a tightly-called contest. Alabama was whistled for 24 fouls, compared to 19 for Vandy. Alabama coach Anthony Grant was upset that a foul wasn't called as Brock's potential game-winner missed the mark, nor was a foul called in a physical scramble for the rebound.

However, had the outcome been different, Stallings may have been the coach with a beef, as Brock appeared to take three steps before releasing the ball on the last shot.

The win was the first in VU's last three trips to Tuscaloosa. Early on, it certainly appeared to be anything but Vandy's night. Alabama threw an early haymaker from which it took Vandy nearly 30 minutes to recover as the 'Tide sprinted to a 9-0 lead, thanks in part to a 3-pointer and a driving bank shot by Torrance.

Beal hit a 3 to break the run, and minutes later, the Commodores switched to zone to slow the fast-paced Crimson Tide offense.

The maneuver worked to slow Alabama's outside shooting, but ultimately led to some easy lay-ups and dunks for the 'Tide as instead, as Alabama out-scored Vandy in the paint 22-8 in the first half.

Vandy never got closer than two, which came when Beal hit a 3 to cut the margin to 30-28 with 1:06 left. But Hines hit a jumper 13 seconds later, then Brock added a 3 eight seconds before the buzzer, and Vandy trailed 35-28 at the break.

The biggest problem for Vandy offensively was Alabama's tight man-to-man defense, which limited VU to 36 percent shooting in the first half.

The Commodores also got killed on the glass throughout much of the first period, but recovered to win the rebounding battle 37-36. Ogilvy and Taylor tied for the team lead with nine each.

On the downside, Ezeli's struggles at the free throw line continued; the sophomore hit just 1-of-5 shots there, dropping him to 28.9 percent on the season.

It must have been contagious. Even the normally-automatic Jenkins (92 percent coming in to Wednesday) missed all three of his charity tosses.

The Commodores changed defensive strategies in the second half to stop Torrance, Alabama's 6-foot-5 point guard who had great success driving and finishing much of the evening. Stallings found his answer when he asked Taylor to guard Torrance in the second half.

"We never quite understood at the start of the second half, that we didn't want Torrance to go left and dribble into the lane and shoot layups against us. We changed and put Jeff on him and got that stopped," Stallings said.

Stallings also praised Andre Walker, who helped greatly against Alabama's press and played a team-high 36 minutes. Walker tallied seven points, six rebounds, three assists and a pair of steals without committing a turnover.

"I don't think I ever took Andre out, which makes me feel bad for the guys that don't play, but I just thought he was playing so well that I didn't want to take him out," Stallings said.

It was the home opener in league play for the 'Tide, which won handily at LSU on Saturday.

Vandy faces South Carolina in Columbia on Saturday. It will be the second of four road games in a five-game stretch for VU.


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