Vandy Cages feisty Rebels, 85-80

NASHVILLE-- The Vanderbilt Commodores jumped out to a 44-29 halftime lead and then held on to defeat the Ole Miss Rebels, 85-80. Derrick Byars led the scoring with 19 points for the Commodores who are off to their best start in SEC play in 14 years.

In the first half Vanderbilt got off to a great start behind superb 3-point shooting. The Commodores made 5 of 9 from behind the arc including 2 of 4 from Shan Foster. Ole Miss led for a brief time early on but the Commodores methodically built their lead to 17-12 with 12:23 remaining on a Dan Cage jumper.

The Commodore lead swelled to 10 at 24-14 with 10:12 remaining when Foster drilled a 3-pointer. Foster finished with 14. Derrick Byars free throw with less than 3 minutes remaining gave Vandy its biggest lead of the half at 37-21. Two Alex Gordon free throws rounded out the first half scoring with Vanderbilt on top, 44-29.

In the second half Ole Miss used a scrappy defense and good 3-point shooting from Clarence Sanders to get back in the game. Bam Doyne's field goal pulled the Rebels to within 7 at 51-44 with 15:43 remaining. Doyne led all scorers with 22.

Sanders' 3-point shot with 10:34 remaining in the game gave Ole Miss the lead at 61-60. It was the first time Ole Miss led since the 2:30 mark in the first half. Over the next 6 minutes the lead changed hands several times and neither team could get more than a 4-point lead.

Ross Neltner made two free throws with 2:21 remaining to put Vanderbilt up 78-76. After a Commodore defensive stand, Neltner added a field goal to put his team up 80-76. Ole Miss would never lead again. Neltner finished with 10 points. Free throws by Gordon and Cage sealed the victory for Vanderbilt. Cage made 3 of 4 three-pointers and finished with 18 points.

Vanderbilt (15-6, 5-2 SEC) is off to its best start in SEC play since the 1992-93 season when the Commodores got off to a 6-1 SEC start and eventually won the SEC Championship with a 14-2 conference record. Vanderbilt will face their biggest test of the season on Wednesday night when they travel to #1 ranked Florida.

Ole Miss falls to 13-8 (2-4 SEC) and will host rival Mississippi State for a Tuesday night game.

Mississippi center Dwayne Curtis (44) shoots as he is pressured by Vanderbilt guard George Drake (34) in the first half of a college basketball game in Nashville, Tenn., Saturday, Jan. 27, 2007. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

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