ATLANTA — The Southeastern Conference’s leading scorer never left the bench — and it didn’t faze Vanderbilt.
Well, maybe not until the final five minutes.
By that point, though, the Commodores already had done too much.
With John Jenkins sitting due to turf toe he sustained last Saturday, his teammates picked up the slack and edged LSU 62-50 in the first round of the SEC Tournament on Thursday at the Georgia Dome.
To do so the Commodores (22-9) had to fend off LSU (11-21), which cut a 20-point second-half deficit to eight points with four minutes left. Vanderbilt clamped down on defense and advanced to play Mississippi State (17-13), the second seed out of the West, in a quarterfinal at 9 p.m. Friday. Vanderbilt won 81-74 at Mississippi State on Jan. 27 but the Bulldogs bounced the Commodores from the league tournament last year.
“I’m going to try to come back and play,” Jenkins, whose big toe on his left foot was bandaged, said. “I don’t know how effective I’ll be. ... Whatever Coach [Kevin Stallings] wants, I’m with it. I’m all for it.”
Jenkins suffered the injury in the Commodores’ final regular-season game against Florida on Saturday, but said he was on standby against the West’s sixth-seed LSU if the Commodores needed him.
It didn’t look like they would as they jumped out to a 31-18 lead late in the first half. Vanderbilt, the third seed out of the East had no problem with LSU’s zone defense as it scored 22 points in the paint in the first half.
“I thought we got pretty good shots against it,” Stallings said. “We got to the [free-throw] line 25 times against a team that basically played the entire game in zone. That is a good thing. We were able to get penetration. When Andre [Walker] is up there at the point of the zone, he can see into it and he is an excellent passer. ... I thought Kyle Fuller penetrated the zone and gave us a good look against it too.”
Vanderbilt pushed the lead to 20 less than six minutes into the second half and seemed to be in cruise control, which might have been a problem. LSU turned 15 Vanderbilt turnovers into 21 points and the Commodores shot just 27.3 percent (6-of-22) in the second half. Over the last 5:37, Vanderbilt missed its last four shots and had four turnovers.
“I think we let up a little bit, which is not really a good thing to fall back on,” guard Brad Tinsley said. “I thought when we were down again, we kind of fought back, went back to our gameplan… and finished out the game.”
Despite shooting just 25.8 percent in the second half, the Tigers took advantage and trimmed the lead to 58-50 on a Chris Bass layup with four minutes remaining. From there, LSU missed its last eight shots from the game.
“Defensively, heck, I thought they played with great passion and great energy,” Stallings said of his team. “We hit that lull there in the last four or five minutes and one of my assistant coaches said in the huddle, ‘If they don’t score again, they can’t beat us.’ ... So were fortunate our defense was where it needed to be.”
Jeffery Taylor finished with a game-high 21 points and 12 rebounds. Tinsley and Festus Ezeli each added 10 points. Lance Goulbourne grabbed a team-high 13 rebounds as the Commodores won the rebounding battle 48-32.
LSU was led by Andre Stringer’s 13 points. The Tigers’ leading scored Ralston Turner was guarded by Taylor for most of the night and was held scoreless on 0-for-12 shooting. In fact, LSU shot just 30.5 percent from the field and was a much different team than the one that scored 43 points in the first half of a loss to Vanderbilt two weeks ago.
“It was a big confidence booster knowing that one of our best players was out and we can get a win handedly,” Goulbourne said. “We played well defensively. Without John, we struggled a little bit offensively. With him back [Friday], I think we’ll definitely score a lot better.”
• Walker played for the first time since Feb. 26, also against LSU. He missed the last two games because Stallings didn’t think he was mentally prepared. Walker is still rebounding from an ankle sprain that kept him out of 13 straight games in January and February.
He logged 19 minutes on Thursday. He scored just four points, dished out two assists and had three turnovers.
• Vanderbilt was 3-of-22 from 3-point range, including 0-for-10 in the second half.
• LSU ended its season losing 14 of its last 15. The Tigers dropped 10 straight during that span before beating Mississippi State 84-82 on Feb. 23.
• Former Vanderbilt standout Jeff Turner was honored as an SEC Legend at halftime of Thursday’s game. The 6-foot-9 forward played for the Commodores from 1981-84 and finished with 1,271 points to put him among the school’s top 25 all-time scorers.
He was also on the United States’ Olympic Gold Medal team in 1984 and had a 10-year career in the NBA. Turner is one of 12 former SEC stars being honored this weekend. Every school is participating in the SEC Basketball Legends, which is in its 13th year.