"I did have that feeling to think, they made 10 out of 16 threes, yet we still have the lead," Felton said. "I wasn't about to say something stupid to the team at halftime like, ‘They can't come out and make another 10 3s,' because the last time I said something like that about how bad our own offense was against Wisconsin, then we came out and shot it even worse in the second half."
Felton was right, though. The Commodores (11-6, 1-2 SEC) made just three 3-pointers in the final 20 minutes, and the Bulldogs won 85-73 in front of 7,311 at Stegeman Coliseum. Even with the improved defense, Georgia (10-5, 2-1) needed the return of Levi Stukes and Billy Humphrey to dismiss Vanderbilt.
Stukes scored 23 points, his second-highest output against an SEC team, and made the key defensive play in a game that wasn't decided until the final minute. After establishing himself as the one of the nation's hottest shooters in December, Stukes went four straight games without topping eight points before Saturday.
"I knew I had to get over this slump to give my team an extra boost," he said. "I always need to be prepared to come out and fill it up to get us over the hump, and I just did it tonight."
In a game that saw 12 lead changes and four ties, Georgia led by just four when Stukes made a steal and then hit a 3-pointer on the other end to put the Bulldogs up 78-71 with 40 seconds left.
"I think our experience that we've gained over the last couple of years is really starting to show in a game like this," said junior center Dave Bliss, who hit all five of his shots to finish with 10 points and eight rebounds. "Maybe two years ago we lost that game with a four-point lead and the momentum starting to shift back. This year, we pulled it together and took that lead right back."
Georgia led 40-39 at halftime despite allowing Vanderbilt to shoot 65.2 percent from behind the 3-point line.
"I was thinking, ‘Why do they keep getting all these open looks?'" Stukes said. "It felt like for a minute every time they shot the ball it was going in."
Sophomore guard Billy Humphrey also made a timely re-appearance. Georgia led 67-65 when Humphrey, who averaged 3.6 points in the last eight games, scored eight straight, including a 3-pointer that put the Bulldogs ahead 75-68 with 3:41 remaining.
"Billy was terrific," Felton said. "He had some very, very timely makes because he had some big-time answers to some big shots Vanderbilt made that could easily have been momentous shots had we not answered."
Humphrey finished with 17, his highest total since the second game of the season and his best in SEC play.
"It always nice to be hot," he said. "It's been a while since I've taken that many shots."
The Commodores' last lead came with 8:47 left when Dan Cage scored to put his team up 61-60. After that possession, Felton switched from man-to-man defense to a 2-3 zone. Vanderbilt scored just four points and had three turnovers in the next 4:42. "I actually used (the zone) a little less than I thought I might going into the game," Felton said. "I just got of stuck with (man) and saved the zone."
Vanderbilt lost despite having two players, Cage and Derrick Byars, hit five 3-pointers each. Byars led the Commodores with 23 points but only six of those came in the second half.
"We did not do a good job of executing against the zone defense tonight, and we missed our fair share of open shots," Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said. "I thought the story of the game was that we did not defend well. Our post defense was atrocious."