NASHVILLE, Tenn.ï¿½Vanderbilt nearly blew a 25-point second-half lead against NCAA Division II Northern State, as foul shooting down the stretch helped the Commodores avoid an embarrassing loss in their exhibition opener.
Dan Cage, Shan Foster, and Alex Gordon each went two-of-two from the charity stripe in the game's final 29 seconds, helping the Commodores to hang on for a 98-94 win.
"Well, as I told my wife before I left the house today there will be some good and some bad and probably a bit of ugly," said Vandy coach Kevin Stallings, who blamed first-game jitters for the Commodores' erratic performance. "I was really pleased with some of the things we did obviously there were some things we didn't do very well."
The Commodores led 86-61 with just 7:03 to play before Northern State, coached by former Lipscomb University coach Don Meyer, went on a 22-3 tear over the next 6:42 to cut the lead to 89-83.
Moments later, Northern cut the lead to 92-91 when Levi Hamilton hit a wide-open layup. Eight seconds later, Cage drained two foul shots for the Commodores, who went up by three.
Vandy took a 51-42 halftime lead, and a 14-2 run midway through the second half appeared to put the game away for good.
However, an awful defensive and rebounding effort against a smaller Northern State team nearly doomed the Commodores, who were out-rebounded 44-30. Northern State had 22 offensive boards and a number of second-chance points.
Fortunately, the Commodores shot well all evening. The 'Dores connected on 59.6% of their field goal attempts, including 8-18 behind the three-point arc.
The Commodores debuted a smaller lineup, with freshman Jermaine Beal starting a point guard, that pushed the ball up the floor more frequently than in past seasons.
"Coach emphasized putting press on them off and with that we have the athletes to run and gun and take smart shots, and good shots guys are accustomed to taking in practice," said senior Derrick Byars.
Five Commodoresï¿½George Drake (17), Foster (15), Derrick Byars (13), Gordon (11), and Alan Metcalfe (10)ï¿½scored in double-figures.
Vanderbilt opens the regular season on November 15 against nationally-ranked Georgetown.