It all felt so wrong for Kevin Bright. But finally it went right for Vanderbilt.
Familiar with losing close games at the end, Bright thought his last-second baseline jumper was off the mark. It appeared that way when the ball bounced off the front of the rim. Then the Commodores received a fortuitous bounce as the ball glanced off the backboard and through the net with 0.8 seconds left for a 63-62 victory over Georgia on Wednesday night at Memorial Gymnasium.
“I didn’t see it coming,” Bright, a freshman, said. “I didn’t expect the ball coming to me with a few seconds left. I didn’t think about it. I just took the ball and dribbled it to the baseline and just was trying to get the shot off. Luckily, it went in.”
In rallying from 17 down, Vanderbilt (12-15, 6-9 Southeastern Conference) finally won a close game.
Against Kentucky and Tennessee, the Commodores witnessed last-second shots rattle out. At the end of regulation of an overtime loss to Ole Miss, Bright made a 3-pointer with three seconds left, only to see Marshall Henderson answer it with a 35-footer at the buzzer.
“We’ve lost several where it was just the bounce of a ball and we were off,” guard Kedren Johnson said. “Luckily tonight we got that bounce and it feels good to finally be on the other side of that win.”
The Commodores displayed significant resolve after a dreadful first-half shooting performance in which they made just 25 percent of their attempts.
Johnson led the team with 17 points and jumpstarted the rally. He scored 13 over an eight-minute span, including the last five points of the first half. He also received help from freshman Sheldon Jeter, who scored all 14 of his points in the second half but first said he had to wake up.
The alarm went off in the form of a call that didn’t go in Vanderbilt’s favor and appeared to be the turning point of the game. Trailing 47-39, Jeter drove to the hoop in transition and appeared to draw a blocking foul as he made a layup with 10:15 left.
The basket was waved off and Jeter was called for a charge. He didn’t agree. Neither did coach Kevin Stallings, who stared at the official for more than 10 seconds during a timeout. Same for the 10,211 in attendance as they showered the officials with boos for a majority of the final 10 minutes.
“Of course when you are sitting on our bench you thought that was a block. I think our fans agreed,” Stallings said. “But it was called a charge and I guess the best thing is that we played through it.”
Jeter channeled his frustration into offense and scored the next eight points to spark a 16-0 run. He sunk a contested 3-pointer. He followed that up by this time drawing a blocking foul and converting a three-point play. His two-hand dunk after a backdoor cut tied the game with 7:14 left. Johnson drained a go-ahead 3-pointer on the next possession to give Vanderbilt its first lead of the game.
“I was kind of dead” before the charge call, Jeter said. “I made a great move and I got a nice touch and he called a charge. I don't think I’ve ever got that close to a ref before, like yelling-wise. I got there and he was just staring at me. And I was like, ‘All right, I don't want a technical.’ so I just walked away. But it kind of fired me up really. It got me going. It did.”
It was the fourth win in six games for Vanderbilt, which has shown improvement and resiliency in the last month.
Even after the rally, the Commodores had to dig deep late to upend Georgia (13-15, 7-8). Behind Kentavious Caldwell-Pope’s 20 points and 14 rebounds, the Bulldogs went ahead on two free throws with 42.3 seconds left.
After a Vanderbilt miss, Caldwell-Pope dribbled the ball off his foot and out of bounds with 19 seconds to go. That set up Bright, who received the ball from Dai-Jon Parker with time winding down. His off-balanced jumper gave him 11 points. More importantly, after Caldwell-Pope’s prayer at the buzzer was way off, he could finally celebrate making a game-winning shot.
“It felt way better than the last time against Ole Miss,” Bright said. “Against Ole Miss, we all thought the game was over. In this game, you just had .8 seconds left so it was kind of over already. We just knew we had to finish it this time.”