Tiffany Clarke, Elan Brown and Gabby Smith trotted out to half court with their families and soaked in the moment on senior night. Then the trio joined their teammates and watched a video filled with highlights and photo collages from their last four years.
Once the ball was tipped, their last game at Memorial Gymnasium was far from picture perfect. But they fended off pesky Auburn long enough to set up a Kodak moment and a 59-44 victory on Thursday night.
The Commodores committed 26 turnovers and shot 39 percent from the field but they held on to assure coach Melanie Balcomb of a milestone. In her 11th season at Vanderbilt, Balcomb collected her 257th win to surpass Jim Foster and become the program’s all-time winningest coach.
Before showering her with water in the locker room, the team surrounded Balcomb on the court afterwards as she received the game ball.
“I’m really proud to be able to gut a win like this,” Balcomb said. “A good team, you have to win different ways and, yes, it was different. It wasn’t pretty. It wasn’t how I drew it up.”
Coming off the high of an upset of No. 10 Texas A&M on Sunday, Vanderbilt (19-9, 9-6 Southeastern Conference) struggled with Auburn’s full-court press/zone defense combo. In the second half, the Commodores went more than 10 minutes without a basket as their lead dwindled to three with 10:07 remaining.
They stayed ahead thanks to poised shooting at the foul line. During that dry spell from the field, they made 13 of 14 free throws,including 12 straight. Vanderbilt, the second-best free-throwing shooting team in the SEC, was 23-of-27 at the foul line.
Jasmine Lister’s 3-pointer with 3:13 ended the field-goal drought and pushed lead to double digits, 53-41 and essentially sealed the program's 20 straight win over the Tigers (15-13, 4-11).
“The beginning was probably a little more emotional so we had to get away from the emotions and start playing,” Clarke said. “We had the ceremony before so it was a little emotional. I think that was one of the reasons why we started off slow. But we picked it back up.”
Clarke finished with 22 points and 14 rebounds and exited the game with 58 seconds left to a standing ovation. Lister added 20 points as she played all 40 minutes. Second-leading scorer Christina Foggie came off the bench and scored four points in her first game since injuring her knee on Feb. 10.