A full moon frightened Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings. The way his team shot in the first half didn’t ease his worries.
A 20-point lead nearly evaporated but the No. 7 Commodores did enough to survive opening night and hold off upset-hungry Oregon in a 78-64 victory on Friday in front of a soldout crowd of 14,316 at Memorial Gymnasium.
“Anything can happen on opening night,” Stallings said. “That’s why they’re scary games. I was spooked earlier because I saw it was a full moon, so I thought anything could happen. We’re happy to win and move forward because this was a game we sweated.”
Behind 24 points and seven 3-pointers from John Jenkins and 21 points and 11 rebounds from Jeffery Taylor, Vanderbilt overcame a dismal shooting performance during the first 20 minutes. The Commodores (1-0) made just 34.3 percent of their shots before halftime – only twice did they shoot worse in an opening half last year.
Oregon led by as many as six and had a 28-24 edge with 4:33 remaining. Over the next eight minutes, spilling into the second half, Vanderbilt got inside Oregon's matchup zone and went on a 20-1 run. Jenkins, who missed his first four 3-pointers, made three during that stretch.
With 13:40 remaining, the Commodores took their biggest lead, 55-35, on a Josh Henderson tip-in.
Defense created offense as Vanderbilt forced Oregon into 20 turnovers, which led to 24 points.
“I think we did a pretty good job of getting our hands on balls, and on tip-in passes and things like that,” Taylor, who accounted for five of the team’s 11 steals, said. “Maybe they were a little careless but I think we can afford to give ourselves a little credit for that too. I think we did a pretty good job.”
Oregon (0-1), which won 21 games last season but has nine newcomers, didn’t surrender. The Ducks cut the deficit to 62-57 on Brett Kingma’s jumper with five minutes left before five straight empty possessions.
Taylor, a preseason All-SEC selection, took over from there. He scored six of Vanderbilt's last 16 points and his baseline jumper with 2:24 left gave the Commodores an insurmountable 74-57 lead.
“Finish — that was one of our key words last year that we couldn’t get,” Jenkins, the SEC’s leading scorer in 2010-11, said. “All of us seniors and juniors said in the huddle that we got to pick it up some because this is the same thing that happened last year. We talked about it all offseason, finishing games and finishing games, and we did. It feels real good to do that.”
Brad Tinsley, a native of Oregon City, added 13 points, despite leaving the game twice after he appeared to hurt his right hand. He broke a bone in that hand back in August.
Overall, Vanderbilt shot just 40.9 percent from the field, 32.1 percent from 3-point range and 55.6 percent from the free-throw line.
The Commodores compensated with their rebounding, winning that battle 41-39. Despite not having 6-foot-11 center Festus Ezeli, who is out for at least a month due to a knee injury, they grabbed 17 offensive rebounds — Taylor had six and Rod Odom added five — which led to 18 second-chance points.
Vanderbilt doesn’t have much time to rest. It hosts Cleveland State at 1 p.m. (ESPNU) on Sunday before welcoming Bucknell on Tuesday. Both games are regional rounds of the Legends Classic, which concludes next weekend in New Jersey.
“It wasn’t pretty,” Stallings said. “We forced turnovers and we didn’t turn it over ourselves [finishing with just eight]. I did not like how we attacked their zone. But again if somebody would have offered me a 14-point victory at the start of the day, I would have signed up for it and not have come to the gym [Friday].”