Two desperation 3-pointers with just seconds remaining failed to fall, as the Vanderbilt Commodores dropped their Southeastern Conference opener to Auburn, 68-65.
VU falls to 10-5 on the season, and 0-1 in the SEC. Auburn rises to 11-5, and 1-0 in league play.
For the game, Vanderbilt sank 12 3-pointers, shooting 46% from behind the arc. But the Commodores scored just 10 baskets from two, finishing the game shooting a meager 35% from the field. In addition, VU came into the game leading the SEC from the free throw line, but missed eight of 17 charity tosses.
Auburn, for their part, came into the contest as the league's worst 3-point shooting team, but left with their best shooting performance of the season. For the game, the Tigers were 14-28 from three, and 45% from the field. Rasheem Barrett was 6-9 from three, and led all scorers with 22 points.
Josh Dollard, who was just 3-19 from three this season, was 4-5 from the arc against VU. Dollard, who just recently regained his eligibility, finished with 12 points and a team-high seven rebounds.
The first half was little more than an outside shooting contest, with 24 of VU's 31 points coming from three.
Vanderbilt led 24-21, but went 7.5 minutes without scoring a basket to see Auburn climb into the lead. VU closed out the first half with six turnovers, including one to Frank Tolbert at the halfcourt line, who jammed home a basket as the horn sounded, giving Auburn a 38-31 lead.
In the second half, Auburn stretched their lead out to 47-35 with 16 minutes remaining. But VU went on a 17-4 run, fueled by two threes from Cage, one by Derrick Byars, and four points from Ross Neltner to go up two, 53-51, with 7:42 left.
But Barrett hit another three at 4:10 to give Auburn the lead for good. Korvotney Barber, Auburn's worst foul shooter, then banked in two foul shots, drawing a wry grin from AU coach Jeff Lebo. Barber then sank a baseline layup off of a Byars turnover, followed by a 22-foot three from Dollard, stretching the Tiger lead to 66-61 with one minute remaining.
Alan Metcalfe, who played 10 minutes after recently returning from a broken foot, sank a turnaround jumper. Beal then stole the ball at mnidcourt and was fouled, and sank both free throws to bring VU within one, 66-65.
But Auburn took the ball out of bounds on the next possession, and after draining the shot clock, Beal made an off-the-ball foul to re-set the clock to 24 seconds. After stalling the game clock to 14 seconds, Quan Prowell buried a baseline jumper to give Auburn the final winning margin.
Desperation threes by Cage and Beal failed to fall as the game clock expired.
Cage's career-high 19 points led Vanderbilt in scoring. Shan Foster scored 14 points, and led the Commodores with 10 rebounds, and freshman Beal had nine points. Ross Neltner had nine rebounds, but was just 1-10 from the field.
For Auburn, Barrett had 22 points and four assists with no turnovers. Barber and Dollard both had 12 points, and Dollard pulled down a team-high seven rebounds for the Tigers.
Vanderbilt missed seven layups in the game, and had its worst performance of the season from the free throw line. Despite dominating Auburn on the boards, VU was just 9-17 from the charity stripe, while Auburn was just 2-5.
"Some days there are times when you're just not supposed to win, and I guess this was one of those," said Vanderbilt head coach Kevin Stallings.
"We're pretty disappointed with the outcome of this game," said Cage. "We felt like we did some things well enough to win, we rebounded well and at times defended well. But you miss layups and bunnies in the paint, rely on the 3-pointer too much, and miss free throws, it's hard to put up a big enough number to win."
"A lot of things had to go right for them to win," said Stallings. "Our guys fought hard, and we killed them on the boards -- which, coming into the game, you wouldn't think we would. We go 9-17 from the foul line, and they bank two free throws in...a lot of things went their way to win. And sometimes it's not your day.
"They have a guy that makes more 3-pointers today than he's made all season. So, it's tough. Our guys played hard, [Auburn] just made too many shots."
Vanderbilt returns to Nashville to face archrival Tennessee on Wednesday.