For a majority of the game, Kerry Hammonds watched his former AAU teammate wreak havoc on Middle Tennessee State.
So Hammonds decided to return the favor and spoil Vanderbilt sophomore Kedren Johnson’s superb night.
As Johnson tried to spin inside, Hammonds jumped in from the backside for a steal. He raced down the court for a layup with 31 seconds left as the Blue Raiders rallied for a 56-52 victory on Friday night in front of 8,307 at Bridgestone Arena.
“I saw Kedren driving and I had missed a couple block outs early,” Hammonds said. “So I had to make it up for it with that big steal at the end. It means a lot to me personally and to the program also.”
Hammonds, a Murfreesboro native, scored a season-high 11 points to help lift MTSU (9-3) to its first win over Vanderbilt since 1995. Johnson scored 15 of his 25 points in the first half but it wasn’t enough for the Commodores (5-5), who had won five straight in the series and 29 of 33 overall.
Hammonds’ bucket came after a go-ahead layup by Tweety Knight with 1:08 left. After Johnson missed a rushed 3-pointer, Raymond Cintron made one of two free throws to cap off a 16-3 run and seal the win.
The Blue Raiders trailed 49-40 with 9:58 left but methodically battled back. Bruce Massey scored a season-high 19 points and MTSU made the most of second-chance opportunities.
The Blue Raiders outrebounded Vanderbilt 34-25 and scored 12 second-chance points on 14 offensive rebounds. But MTSU coach Kermit Davis believed rotating in smaller players – he went to a four-guard lineup late – caused problems for the Commodores, who had 18 turnovers.
“It looked like we were kind of out of it,” Davis said. “We went small with some minutes to go. We went with four guards and tried to create a little more pressure and a little more havoc defensively.”
It was a disappointing loss for Vanderbilt, which had won three in a row.
In a tightly contested game that featured five ties and 10 lead changes, the Commodores created some separation at the beginning of the second half. They went on a 10-2 run, which Johnson ended with back-to-back baskets. The Marshall County product got a fortuitous bounce on a mid-range jumper for the largest lead of the game with less than 10 minutes left.
Then Vanderbilt’s inexperience showed up. The senior-less team with a less-than-stellar post presence, unraveled slowly and let MTSU get second chances.
No offensive rebound was bigger than one in the last two minutes. Johnson had just pushed the Commodores back in front 52-51 when he banked in a basket with 1:56 left. Knight drove the lane on the next possession but missed a layup. He hustled to the rebound, wrestling with Vanderbilt center Josh Henderson.
The officials called a jump ball, with possession going to MTSU. Knight got a second chance and didn’t let it go to waste. His older brother, Marcos, zoomed in a pass on a backdoor cut for an open layup.
The Commodores still had time to win the game. Coach Kevin Stallings said he twice set up plays in timeouts when the team trailed by one, only to see players not in the right spot.
“It’s indicative that their minds are someplace else,” Stallings said, “which is proof to me that we got individualized when [MTSU] started making their run instead of staying together and doing the things that worked for us. We started thinking about other things than what I was telling and wanting them to do.”