Vandy Holds Off Auburn Rally In SEC Opener

Auburn came up short in Bruce Pearl's first SEC game as head coach of the Tigers.

Nashville, Tenn.--Auburn’s second half rally fell short as Vanderbilt pulled away in the closing minute for a 64-52 victory in the SEC basketball opener for both teams.

The Tigers trailed 55-50 when K.T. Harrell drove to the basket and scored as a foul was called. Instead of getting the basket and a free throw with a chance to cut the lead to two points, a questionable charging call was whistled and that helped the Commodores stop Auburn’s rally with 1:32 left.

“That was a tough one,” Coach Bruce Pearl said of the foul call on his team's top scorer.

The Tigers rallied from a 19-point first half deficit. Auburn’s issues major were rebounding and the inability to shoot well from either the field or at the foul line.

Auburn made just 31 percent of its field goals, hitting just 18-59 while Vandy hit 43 percent (20-46). The Tigers were 7-21 on threes and really hurt their cause by making just 9-18 free throws while Vandy hit 20-25 free throws and 4-13 threes.

Vandy dominated the rebounding statistic, pulling in 47, 20 more than the visitors who fell to 8-6 on the season as their five-game winning streak was snapped. Vandy improved to 11-3 with its fourth consecutive victory.

James Siakam led the Commodores with a double-double.

Pearl said if his team had played with the intensity for 40 minutes that it showed during its comeback, the Tigers would have won on Tuesday night at Memorial Gym. “That is how this system works,” he pointed out.

“We don’t work hard enough offensively, we didn’t make them cover, we didn’t draw fouls and as a result we kind of slopped through things and dug ourselves a big hole.

“We battled back and competed and turned them over 19 times," Pearl added. "If you turn Vanderbilt over 19 times you should have a chance to win.”

Antoine Mason was the only Tiger to score in double figures. He finished with 16 points as he made 5-14 field goals. Malcolm Canada scored nine points before fouling out late in the game, K.T. Harrell finished with eight and Cinmeon Bowers added seven points and a team-high nine rebounds.

James Siakam led the Commodores with 14 points and 10 rebounds. Riley LaChance added 13 points for Vandy.

Both teams started slowly on offense. The Tigers’ biggest lead was at 6-2. Vandy took the lead with 13:16 left in the first half as Siakam scored on a layup and never gave it up.

After a basket by Harrell, his only points of the first half at the 11:41 mark, the Tigers didn’t score again until Bowers hit a layup with 6:54 on the clock. During that stretch the Commodores built their 13-11 lead to 25-13 and stretched the margin to 31-13 with 4:14 left in the half.

Halftime Numbers: The Tigers trailed 33-19 at the break due to shooting and rebounding woes. Auburn made just 6-29 field goals, 3-11 threes and 4-6 free throws while being out-rebounded 24-13. The Commodores hit 13-28 field goals, 3-9 threes and 4-4 free throws. Mason led the Tigers with eight points in the half while Siakam scored eight for Vandy.

Auburn cut the lead to 43-38 with 10:53 left in the second half on a basket by Mason, but the Commodores stretched the margin back to 14 points before the Tigers rallied again. A three-pointer by Jordon Granger cut the lead to 55-50 with 2:17 left, but that was as close as the visitors could get.

Commenting on his team's defense, Pearl said, "Overall, especially in the second half, I thought it was really good," he said. "I talked to Coach (Kevin) Stallings aftewards and he was really impressed with how we guarded, and we can guard better. We can be even more alert."

Worth Noting: Tajh Shamsid-Deen, who missed the previous game with a shoulder injury, came off the bench to score three points with two assists and two rebounds in 22 minutes of playing time.

"It was great to have Tajh out there defensively, but he only makes one shot," Pearl said.

Worth Noting, Part II: Pearl noted that Harrell, who was averaging just under 18 points per game, passed up too many shots. "He is the leading three-point shooter in the league," the coach said. "He kept on shot-faking and trying to put the ball on the floor. He turned down some shots he should have taken and there were a lot of balls that went in and out for him."

Stat of the Game: Auburn helped its cause by forcing 19 turnovers while committing just nine.

Up Next: The Tigers will play home on Saturday at 6 p.m. vs. Missouri. "We have got to defend our home floor," said Pearl, who added that he appreciated the turnout of Auburn fans who were at Memorial Gym on Tuesday night. "We had some really good support here--it was wonderful. We got them on their few a times in the second half, but we didn't make the statement we were hoping to make."

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