NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Vanderbilt has a roster loaded with seniors. LSU starts a couple of freshmen and sophomores, and the Commodores showed Wednesday what experience can mean in crunch time.
Senior center Festus Ezeli matched his season-high with 21 points to help the Commodores beat the Tigers 76-61 and snap a two-game skid.
"I was proud of my team," Vanderbilt Coach Kevin Stallings said. "I thought we showed our experience there at the end of the game. The last 5 or 6 minutes, I thought we were able to make a little spurt. Really, probably aside from our foul shooting a little bit, I was very pleased with the way we played."
The Commodores (17-7, 6-3 SEC) had lost at Arkansas and then-No. 12 Florida, which knocked Vandy back out of the Top 25. The Commodores bounced back at home, even though they came out flat and a bit sloppy with a visit Saturday night from No. 1 Kentucky looming.
Ezeli said Vanderbilt didn't look ahead to Kentucky, and a day off from practice to rest up an aching left knee helped.
"I felt good (Wednesday) just in terms of health-wise and first half some pains and aches here," Ezeli said. "But yeah, I just felt good. So when I feel good, I don't know, just play."
John Jenkins, the SEC’s leading scorer, led the Commodores with 20 points and Jeffery Taylor had 19.
Vanderbilt led by 11 points three times but couldn't put LSU away. Andre Stringer made two free throws to pull the Tigers to within 63-59. Ezeli had a one-handed dunk, then Taylor stole the ball leading to a 3-pointer by Jenkins with 4:07 left.
"They're a good basketball team, very experienced, very skilled, very balanced," Tigers coach Trent Johnson said. "We have a hard time playing for a full ... 40 minutes against a team of that caliber. I thought we did the best we could in terms of staying right there."
|Ralston Turner: Scored 12 points to lead the Tigers|
The Tigers had something to do with Vanderbilt's sluggish play. They have held 12 opponents to fewer than 60 points this season and looked to be on track for a 13th when the teams were tied at 27 at halftime.
The Commodores struggled from 3-point range as the Tigers hold the SEC's best perimeter shooting team to 35% (7-of-20), well below Vanderbilt's 42.9% average. Jenkins said part of it was LSU's defense and part him trying to be more selective in his shots.
"I've been doing a better job of that, I think, this whole year, not forcing shots," Jenkins said. "So I was taking what they were giving me. They were really pressuring me; they were really getting into me. I wanted to drive, and I was able to get fouled a little bit and make a couple jump shots, floaters, so it worked out well."
With Ezeli playing much better after a day off from practice a couple days ago, the Commodores had a 38-22 scoring edge in the lane, and they tied LSU, the SEC leader in offensive rebounds, at 37 boards overall.
Ezeli also had 2 blocks, including one on Hamilton just before a 12-0 run by Vanderbilt.
The Tigers last led at 35-34 on a long jumper by Turner with 16:40 left. Jenkins sank two free throws for the final lead change. That started the 12-0 run, and Taylor hit consecutive 3-pointers, the second from the top of the key for Vanderbilt's largest lead at 46-35 with 12:53 left.
"Bottom line, we had opportunities," Johnson said. "We didn't execute. Their length and their strength caused problems for us."