Vanderbilt came into tonight's game with Toledo with a 1-3 record, and played from behind for almost the entire game. But three different Commodores came through in the clutch to put the game into overtime, and Vandy pulled out a 98-93 win over the visiting Toledo Rockets at Memorial Gym.
The Commodores trailed 60-53 with 12:01 remaining in regulation, after Toledo's Jonathan Amos hit a jumper. But five TU turnovers over the next five minutes helped Vandy slowly cut into the Rockets' lead. A 3-pointer by Byars at 6:25 pulled VU within 69-68, and then a layup by Neltner off of an assist by Dan Cage gave VU it's first lead of the night.
Toledo took an early lead in overtime on a jumper by Tyrone Kent and a layup by Florentino Valencia. But a foul shot by Foster and threes by Byars and Neltner gave VU a 93-92 lead. Kent then went to the line for two shots after being fouled by freshman JeJuan Brown with just :13 remining, but the junior made only one, tieing the game at 93.
On the ensuing play, freshman point guard Jermaine Beal took matters into his own hands. On a set play called during the timeout, Beal drove off of a screen down the left side of the lane and was fouled by Kashif Payne as he sank a layup with 4.4 seconds left.
After Beal made the foul shot, he intentionally fouled Ingram on the inbounds pass. The junior missed both ends of the two-shot foul and Neltner was fouled on the rebound. Neltner sank both charity tosses with one second left for the final margin, giving VU a desperately-needed win.
"We had our chances," said Toledo head coach Stan Joplin. "We didn't make the plays down the stretch." Toledo was just 1-5 from the foul line down the stretch.
"We didn't make a free throw and a rebound and we turned the ball over," said Joplin. "The effort was there and we had a chance to win, we just ran out of time."
Toledo's Keonta Howell was 11-19 from the field, leading all scorers with 32 points. Virtually every Commodore attempted to guard Howell at some point during the game. Valentino had a game-high 13 rebounds, to go with 18 points. Justin Ingram added 16 points for the Rockets. Toledo out-rebounded the taller Commodores 35-33.
For Vanderbilt, wings Derrick Byars had 28 points and Shan Foster scored 21, while junior Ross Neltner added a career-high 20 points on 8-12 shooting, plus eight boards. Senior Cage, starting his third consecutive game for Vandy, had 11.
Brown added eight rebounds, playing 27 minutes for the Commodores. Beal played 28 minutes, and was 4-5 from the field and 5-6 from the line. All of those numbers are career highs for both first-year Commodores.
Both teams struggled to stop the other on defense. Toledo shot 58% from the field in the second half, while Vanderbilt dropped 64% of their second half shots.
"We have a long way to go defensively," remarked Stallings. "I have to be a better coach defensively. That's my fault. We have to continue to get better. I thought we played better defense in the second half. Our best defense was probably in overtime, which is encouraging because that's when we need to be the best."
The Commodores came into tonight's contest desperate for a win, having lost to Furman on Tuesday. "This was as big a win as any conference game we've ever played," said Vanderbilt head coach Kevin Stallings. "We really needed this one."
"We showed grit," said Byars. "We knew tonight was a must win game for us and we wanted to get a victory by any means necessary. We showed a lot of resolve. We have a bunch of competitive guys in that locker room and being 1-3 was disappointing. We came out and tried to start a nice win streak."
Vanderbilt continues its six-game home stand this week, when they face East Tennesse State on Tuesday at 8:00 pm. Vandy then plays crosstown foe David Lipscomb on Thursday, followed by Georgia Tech on Saturday.