The victory advances the Tigers to the second round of the SEC Men's Basketball Tournament on Friday. Auburn will face LSU with tipoff set for approximately 8:45 p.m. CST. The Bayou Bengals, co-champs of the SEC West, had a first round bye.
The Tigers hit seven three-pointers in the first half, but couldn't make a single one after that. However, that didn't stop Jeff Lebo's team from stretching a seven-point halftime lead to as many as 21 points in the second half.
However, hot shooting by Vandy, combined with Auburn turnovers in the final minutes, allowed the Commodores to threaten to win a game that they had to take to keep NCAA Tournament hopes alive.
Quinnel Brown drives to the basket in the first half. The senior scored 11 points by intermission.
"I was obviously really proud of my team to come into this environment and win a game against a very good basketball team Vanderbilt team, a team that handled us in the second half very easily at our place--a team that was playing for a lot," Lebo said. "We knew we would take a good punch.
"I was really proud of the way we played--especially for about 30 minutes of the game," Lebo said. "We didn't finish it out the way I liked with some turnovers. We had three freshmen on the court when Quinnel Brown fouled out. That is why I told them aferwards coaches don't like to coach freshmen very much.
"We shot the ball extremely well in this game, which is what we have to do," Lebo said. "Vanderbilt did not and that was our chance to win the game."
Lebo also liked the fact that the Tigers outscored the Commodores 32-18 with points in the paint. The coach noted that the Tigers planned to attack the Commodores inside in the second half, something that had been a focus in practice this week.
Ian Young, who scored 14 for the Tigers, said there was a reason for his team's success inside. "They extended the pressure outside and took away our threes and that gave us an opportunity to drive with the ball inside," Young said. "It opened it up. We got the ball inside. With our size it is crazy, but that is what we did."
Freshman guard Toney Douglas led all scorers with 23 points and also led all rebounders with 10. He came through with key free throws and rebounds when the game was on the line in the final minutes.
Douglas said the pressure situations were no problem at all. "I love pressure," he said.
Auburn shot 54.2 percent for the game and held Vandy to 38.7 percent shooting. Lebo said that was the scenario that needed to develop for Auburn to pull off the upset. The coach said he was proud of his team for handling a Vandy team that had so much to play for with an NCAA berth on the line. "They had to beat us, had to beat LSU probably," Lebo said. "We played so well. For 30 minutes we were passing well, getting good looks and making shots."
The coach also had praise for senior Young, who played 37 minutes with just one turnover while adding four assists and five rebounds. "Ian played well. For the most part he made good decisions, took his open shots, kept his turnovers over down. He had just one in the game."
Lebo added, "When Toney Douglas and Ian Young score for us it seems to open things up for us."
Auburn improved its record to 14-16 overall while Vandy fell to 18-13.
"I am so proud of what they have done," Lebo said. "People say what a hard year it was. We are almost .500 out there and that is amazing...These kids have shown a lot to me as a coach."
Vandy coach Kevin Stallings was not amused by the loss and said the Tigers became the aggressors. "It was almost as if we were offended by that," he said. "I don't know if we didn't think they would do that or what."
The first half featured 11 lead changes before Auburn's late run put the Tigers on top 40-33 at halftime. The Tigers never trailed after that.
The Tigers shot 50 percent in the first half and nailed 7-13 three pointers. Vandy was good from three-point range, making 5-13 in the first half and 42.9 percent overall.
The Tigers stayed close on the boards in the first half, trailing just 17-14 in rebounds vs. the taller Commodores, who were led by guard Mario Moore's 13 first half points. Brown scored 11 in the first half for the Tigers, Young added nine and Douglas chipped in with eight points.
The Tigers and Commodores were tied at 33-33 with 2:24 left in the first half. The Tigers scored the final seven points of the half with a fast break basket by Watson to beat the buzzer following an impressive blocked shot by Tolbert stretching the margin to 40-33.
Auburn stretched the lead into double figures at the 18:00 mark of the second half with a runner by Douglas to make the score 43-33.
The Tigers built the lead to 12 before the Commodores scored again at the 16:48 mark.
Despite Brown sitting with his third foul at the 16:02 mark, the Tigers stretched the lead to 16 on a basket by Douglas at the 15:11 mark.
The lead ballooned to 20 at 55-35 after back to back baskets by Douglas on a backdoor cut layup pass from Young and a fastbreak basket by Daniel Hayles at the the 13:48 mark.
Nathan Watson launches a jump shot vs. the Commodores.
Auburn's lead reached 22 at the 8:40 mark as Douglas hit a short jumper to beat the shot clock making the score 63-42.
Vanderbilt, which won the regular season meeting vs. the Tigers by a 67-43 score, made a 14-0 run and cut the lead to 63-53 at the 6:17 mark after a three-point basket by Shan Foster. Another Foster three narrowed the gap to 63-56 at the 5:55 mark.
Douglas stopped the run with a basket at the 5:24 mark, but there was more trouble for the Tigers as Brown picked up his fourth foul at 5:24 and 10 seconds later fouled out after playing a total of 29 minutes.
The Commodores cut the lead to 67-60 at the 4:20 mark on a pair of free throws by Julian Terrell.
Careless ball-handling by the Tigers, who had just four first half turnovers, allowed Vandy to keep the pressure on Auburn down the stretch.
The game took another twist at the 1:29 mark with Vanderbilt holding the ball and Auburn on top 69-63. Official Rick Crawford went down with an ankle injury that forced a five-minute stoppage in play. Tom Lopes came in as the substitute official.
A pair of free throws by Foster with 1:19 left cut the lead to 69-65. However, Auburn answered with four straight clutch free throws by Douglas on one and one situations. The freshman hit nothing but net to put the Tigers ahead 73-67 with 51 seconds left.
A fastbreak layup by Nathan Watson made the score 75-67 with 32 seconds remaining. Corey Smith then hit a three-pointer with 21.1 seconds left to cut the lead to five.
Tolbert was fouled in the backcourt with 20.1 seconds left for the 10th Vandy team foul. The freshman missed his first shot, but hit the second to make the lead 76-70.
Alex Gordon cut the lead to three with a three-pointer from the corner with 11.4 seconds left and Vandy still had hope.
Young was then fouled with 10.3 seconds remaining and made the first, but missed the second free throw to make the score 77-73. Vandy missed two shots and Auburn walked away with the upset victory.
Moore led Vandy with 21 points while Foster added 19 for the Commodores, who held a 34-28 rebounding edge.
Auburn hit 18-23 free throws to 12-19 for Vandy. The Tigers hit 7-19 threes while Vandy made 13-36. Auburn had 13 turnovers, two less than the losers.
"The offense wasn't running smooth and we didn't get defensive stops," Vandy's Moore said. "It is disappointing to have so much on the line and then lose it."
In the other first round games, Ole Miss edged South Carolina 53-52, Mississippi State eliminated Georgia by a 71-58 margin and Tennessee sent the Pigs packing with a 65-46 victory over Arkansas in the Thursday night game prior to the Auburn contest.
Lebo said Auburn has its hands full against LSU on Friday night. "We have got a nasty one against a group of men," he said. Auburn played just seven in the game with Daniel Hayles getting in 20 minutes off the bench and Moses Edun playing for one minute.