But it wasn't to be. Behind sophomore guard Anthony Morrow's 28 points, a struggling Georgia Tech team (7-4) made all the plays down the stretch to sting Vanderbilt 76-67 Tuesday before 9,191 paid at Alexander Memorial Coliseum. The loss in the afternoon matinee contest, the final non-conference game on the Commodores' schedule, means Vandy will enter Southeastern Conference play on Saturday with a record of 9-2.
It was Vanderbilt's first visit to Tech's famed "Thrillerdome" since 1964, when the Jackets still belonged to the SEC. For the Commodores, the matchup with Paul Hewitt's team served as a rare regular-season matchup against an Atlantic Coast Conference squad in a hostile environment, and was billed as an early-season contest between two teams with NCAA aspirations.
Ultimately, poor rebounding, spotty defense, turnovers down the stretch, and some hot shooting by Morrow and Tech proved too much for the 'Dores to overcome.
"The first thing I wrote on the board [before the game] was that we had to contain No. 23 [Morrow]," said Vandy head coach Kevin Stallings. "I guess we didn't get that done. He's a great player and he made some tough shots."
"We knew he was a great player coming into the game," said Foster, who led Vandy with 19 points. "He obviously made some big shots. We tried to stay on him as much as possible.
"But that's the thing about great players -- they're going to find a way to score."
Vanderbilt was still within striking distance with 2:12 to play when a Julian Terrell dunk cut Tech's lead to 70-65. After a Jacket turnover, the Commodores had the ball and a chance to cut further into the lead -- but Derrick Byars' outside shot was off the mark, and the rebound went out of bounds to Tech. Morrow sank four free throws in the last two minutes, and when time expired, the Jackets had held Vanderbilt without a field goal in the final 2:12.
Georgia Tech played without starting guard Mario West and highly touted freshman reserve Lewis Clinch. Even so, the Jackets shot 61 percent from the floor (to Vandy's 44 percent), as D'Andre Bell (10 points), Zam Fredrick (12) and Ra'Sean Dickey (10) all scored in double figures. Morrow and Jeremis Smith tied with a game-high 9 boards.
"We should have come out with a greater defensive intensity," Foster said. "We allowed them to get lay-ups and open shots and things of that sort. When you let teams get their heads up, they're going to knock down shots."
For the second straight game, the Commodores opened with a taller lineup of Byars at the point, DeMarre Carroll and Foster on the perimeter, and Terrell and Ted Skuchas inside. Mario Moore came off the bench to produce only 2 points and 2 assists in 18 minutes; Alex Gordon played a season-low 5 minutes, the same as in the Dayton game.
After Foster's 19 points, Terrell contributed 16 points, while Byars added 10, Dan Cage 9, and Carroll 8. Freshman center Davis Nwankwo, who had been held out of the Dayton game with an injury, played a career-high 13 minutes but didn't score. Carroll's 4 rebounds was tops for Vandy, which was out-rebounded by the Jackets 35-18.
Both teams opened sluggishly, but the Yellow Jackets warmed up to shoot 67 percent from the floor in the first half. They built a 30-22 lead with under three minutes left in the first period. Cage provided a scoring spark off the bench with a flurry of three first-half 3-pointers, but the Commodores trailed 37-32 at the intermission.
Vanderbilt opened the second half with a 7-point run to take what would be its last lead of the game at 39-37. But Tech, scoring the next 7 points, buzzed past the 'Dores and was able to maintain the edge until the final buzzer.
Though Georgia Tech may have exposed some of Vandy's vulnerabilities, Commodore fans can still be upbeat about the fact that the team has emerged from a challenging non-conference schedule with a 9-2 record -- including a 2-1 record in three imposing road venues. The Commodores open SEC play at 1 pm CT Saturday with a Jefferson-Pilot televised home game vs. Auburn.
Tuesday's game was the first of four scheduled games between Vanderbilt and Tech. The two teams are scheduled to meet again in Nashville the next two seasons, and Vanderbilt will make a return visit to Atlanta in 2008-09.