The Tigers gave Vanderbilt a fight to the finish, but in the end the bigger, deeper and more talented Commodores pulled away down the stretch for a 76-71 victory in the opening round of SEC Men's Basketball Tournament.
The Tigers turned the ball over just six times and put four players in double figures, but Vandy hit 56.5 percent in the second half to rally for the victory after trailing by as many as eight points in the first half and three at intermission.
"Jeff does some interesting things from a defensive standpoint," Vandy coach Kevin Stallings said. "Every time we play him he does something different. He is very creative."
Auburn's defense kept the Commodores off balance early as the Tigers gave Vandy several different zone looks while blending in man to man.
"We did change a lot defensively, Lebo said. "They can carve you up if you are in man to man so we wanted them to play against some changing defenses. The first half it was effective. The second half they made shots.
"Our thought was we were hoping they shot in the high 30s (percent from the field) in this game, but(Shan) Foster was terrific and (Derrick) Byars can do a little bit of everything. They can beat anybody when the ball is going in the basket for them. They have proven that already this year, beating Georgetown at Georgetown. I think Kevin was really hoping this would be an NCAA Tournament team."
Frank Tolbert scored 18 points to lead the Tigers as he hit 7-13 field goals, including 4-8 threes. Half of Auburn's 58 field goal attempts were treys. The Tigers hit 11 for a 37.9 average.
Sophomore Frank Tolbert led the Tigers in rebounds with six and points with 18.
The Commodores did even better, making half of their 22 treys, something Stallings said changed the momentum early in the second half and sparked his team's 17th victory of the season to go with 11 losses. Auburn finished the year 12-16 overall.
Lebo said his Tigers were a better team at the end of the year than they were to open the season.
"I am proud of the way the kids have grown up," he said. "I am proud of the way they played.
"You saw a team that didn't look like an SEC team in weight and in size, but looked like one in heart and they gave us a chance," Lebo added.
Freshman point guard Quantez Robertson tied his career high for points with 17 as he hit 5-10 field goals and 6-6 free throws. He fouled out after 39 minutes of action with three assists, one steal and not a single turnover.
Auburn's only senior, Ronny LeMelle, scored 13, his ninth straight double figures scoring effort to end his AU career.
The Tigers got 11 points from freshman Rasheem Barrett.
Guard Quantez Robertson shoots from the corner.
Vandy was led by 21 points from guard Derrick Byars, who nailed 5-8 treys. Shan Foster scored 20 points and the forward added a game-high nine rebounds as the Commodores enjoyed a 34-28 edge on the boards.
For the game Auburn was 10-12 on free throws while Vandy made 15-24.
Overall, the Tigers hit 43.1 percent from the field while Vandy sizzled at 51 percent after getting off to a slow start as Auburn jumped out to a 10-2 lead to open the contest.
However, by halftime the Tigers lead was down to 34-31 to set the stage for a second half victory by the Commodores.