Steve Tchiengang got his birthday gift — and he had a lot to do with it.
The Vanderbilt junior forward turned 22 on Wednesday and just wanted one thing: a win. He got it when Andre Walker made a layup with 4.1 seconds left to propel No. 24 Vanderbilt to a 77-76 victory over Marquette at Memorial Gymnasium.
Tchiengang’s 10 points and nine rebounds off the bench gave the Commodores (10-2) a boost, especially in the second half. He scored five straight points at the start of a 21-6 run shortly after halftime that wiped away a seven-point deficit and gave Vanderbilt a 59-51 lead.
“I thought we got a great game from Steve Tchiengang,” coach Kevin Stallings said. “I thought he was awesome. The start of the second half he really played for us and got us going.”
Tchiengang’s emotions and attitude seemed to be contagious. For example, after drawing a foul midway through the second half, the Cameroon native waved his hands, motioning the crowd of 13,604 to turn up the noise.
“That is where my emotion comes from just that it is my birthday and I am supposed to play good and help my team,” Tchiengang said. “I think I did a pretty good job [Wednesday] night.”
Tchiengang’s effort helped offset a sub-par performance by the Commodores’ leading scorer. John Jenkins scored 13 points (more than five below his average of 18.2), was 4-of-21 from the field overall and 2-of-15 from 3-point range. The sophomore guard missed his first nine 3-point attempts.
Jeffery Taylor led the Commodores with 19 points. Brad Tinsley added 15 and Festus Ezeli had 12.
Tinsley also had eight assists and just one turnover. His last assist, though, was his biggest as it set up Walker for the game-winner.
Darius Johnson-Odom made a jumper with 19.5 seconds remaining and gave Marquette (9-4) a 76-75 lead. Stallings then designed a play for Taylor “to create something.”
“We have been working on it all week and literally we have scored every time,” Stallings said. “Now, it wasn’t as hard to score in practice as it was on that possession.”
Taylor dribbled out to the perimeter but passed on a shot. He gave the ball to Jenkins, who also passed up a shot. Jenkins then dished it to Tinsley, who was swarmed by two Golden Eagle defenders. But Tinsley saw Walker, who had missed the last four games due to mononucleosis, slip open.
Walker went in for the layup and lofted the shot over 6-foot-11 Chris Otule.
“Their big guy just stuck to [Festus Ezeli] and I saw [Walker] wide-open and hit him and he made a big-time layup,” Tinsley said.
Marquette had a chance at the end but Johnson-Odom fell as he drove the lane. He lost control of the ball and Ezeli picked it up as time expired.
“I think he just stumbled or stepped on somebody’s foot toward the end,” Taylor said. “I think my heart almost stopped because I thought they were going to call a foul. I was really, really happy and I think we're really lucky that a foul wasn’t called. We’re just happy to get the win — and that he fell.”
Vanderbilt led 16-5 just five minutes into the game but Marquette didn’t go away. The Golden Eagles, who lost to No. 1 Duke, Wisconsin and Gonzaga each by fewer than five points, battled back. They attacked inside, taking a 37-34 lead into halftime.
Five Marquette players scored in double-digit figures led by Jimmy Butler’s 15 points. The Golden Eagles led by seven early in the second half and bounced back from an eight-point deficit with 7:32 left.
After Ezeli made two free throws for a 75-72 VU advantage with 1:10 to go, Jae Crowder hit two free throws, then Taylor was called for an offensive foul on a push-off, which led to Johnson-Odom’s go-ahead jumper.
“If you don’t care who won, that was a terrific game,” Stallings said. “We knew were in for a battle and we were. In all of their losses, they have gotten behind ... and nobody, including Duke, can get rid of them.”
• Stallings dropped by during Marquette coach Buzz Williams' postgame press conference.
The two engaged in friendly — and at times comical — conversation. Both coaches also spoke very highly of each other.
They met back in 2008 during Williams' first season as head coach at Marquette, when the Golden Eagles were in Nashville playing Tennessee in the SEC-Big East Challenge. The two then developed a friendship that following summer and Williams said he texts and talks to Stallings a lot about basketball — and country music.
“I really admire him,” Williams said. “I think he is what college basketball is supposed to be about. I think the older I get, the rarer that becomes. As a young coach, I have admiration for guys who are still old school and do things the right way.”
• Vanderbilt junior forward Lance Goulbourne sat out again on Wednesday night, serving the second game of his two-game suspension due to an NCAA infraction.
The Commodores were alerted hours before their game at Middle Tennessee State on Dec. 21 that Goulbourne was declared ineligible after receiving an extra benefit last year.
Goulbourne will be available to play in Vanderbilt’s home game against Davidson on Sunday. The Commodores’ sixth man off the bench is averaging nearly nine points, seven rebounds and 23 minutes.
• Hannah Tuomi surpassed 1,000 points for her career as Vanderbilt's women defeated Delaware 72-51 in the opening round of the Hilton Garden Classic in Blacksburg, Va.
Tuomi, a 6-foot senior forward, scored 11 points and became the 32nd player at Vanderbilt to reach the 1,000-point milestone. She is now tied with Caroline Williams for 30th in school history with 1,005 points.
Angela Puleo led the Commodores, who are now 9-3 and have won five straight, with a season-high 15 points on 5-of-5 shooting from 3-point range off the bench. They pulled away late in the first half thanks to a 21-0 run that erased a six-point deficit.
Vanderbilt faces Virginia Tech, 6 p.m. Thursday in the tournament championship game.