Vanderbilt holds off UGA, 73-66

NASHVILLE--Festus Ezeli scored 18 points and added 10 rebounds to help Vanderbilt secure a wire-to-wire 73-66 win over Georgia in the Commodores' home opener on Wednesday night.

Vanderbilt improved to 1-1 in Southeastern Conference play and 12-3 overall with the victory over the Bulldogs, who came into Nashville fresh off of a 77-70 victory over 11th-ranked Kentucky in Athens. The Commodores have now won nine straight SEC home openers.

Ezeli recorded his first double-double since December 4th against Belmont and played a key role in getting Bulldog big men Jeremy Price and Chris Barnes into early foul trouble.

"That's one of our strengths, we get to the line a lot," said head coach Kevin Stallings. "I thought that was a big key to the game tonight because they were fighting foul trouble, and a lot of that has to do with Fes because he was such a presence down there that he just got them in position where they kind of had to foul him. If he plays like that, we're a much better team."

"It was just two big guys going at each other is what that was," said Ezeli of his matchup with Price, which ended with 9:48 left in the game when Ezeli got Price to bite on a post move for his fifth foul and scored to give Vanderbilt a seven-point lead.

Ezeli's big game put additional pressure on Georgia's central playmakers to pick up their production as head coach Mark Fox expanded his rotation to account for Price and Barnes's lost minutes. Guard Travis Leslie led all scorers with 21 points and tied teammate Trey Thompkins for the game high of 13 rebounds.

"He's a tough player," forward Jeffery Taylor said of Leslie, who was averaging 13.9 points per game entering Wednesday night's matchup. "He offensive rebounds really well and seems like he kind of has a nose for the ball, and he makes tough shots. He's a really good driver."

Thompkins added 13 points and two blocks in 35 minutes of playing time. Nashville native Gerald Robinson hit his first three three-pointers and finished with 20 points for the Bulldogs.

Vanderbilt led by as much as 11 in the first half after the Bulldog offense cooled off from a quick start from the field. Taylor highlighted his 11-point first-half effort with an emphatic one-handed alley-oop dunk off an inbounds pass from Kyle Fuller with 9:38 to play that helped spark a 9-2 Vanderbilt run and sent the crowd into a frenzy.

"Whenever you have an electrifying play like that, it gets everybody going – my teammates, the crowd, everybody kind of gets into it a little more," said Taylor of his full-extension dunk. "It's what the crowd wants, it's kind of a crowd-pleaser and it definitely pumps your own teammates up, so it's a good thing."

The Bulldogs cut the lead to three with just over 10 minutes left in the game but never got closer the rest of the way, even though the Commodores went the final 6:44 of game time without a field goal.

Shooting guard John Jenkins contributed 11 of his 18 points in the second half, including both of Vanderbilt's second-half three-pointers.

The Commodores head to Knoxville this weekend for a Saturday afternoon game against Tennessee, now the only SEC East team without a conference win. Tipoff is at 11:00 a.m. CST.

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