Monday’s exhibition game was supposed to be a cakewalk for Vanderbilt.
Instead, it turned into a white-knuckle struggle that left VU coach Kevin Stallings scratching his head.
A free throw by guard Alex Gordon with 2.2 seconds remaining lifted the Commodores to an 80-79 victory over Division II Tusculum at Memorial Gym.
The undermanned Pioneers dropped an 81-59 decision at Lipscomb last week and figured to have no chance against Vanderbilt. Instead, they rained in 13 three-pointers and pushed VU to the brink of an embarrassing defeat.
The Commodores led by 17 points in the second half before Tusculum rallied. The Pioneers scored 54 points in the second half by firing away from the perimeter.
“We had a lapse,” VU guard Alex Gordon said. “It seemed like everything threw up, they hit. We wanted to blow them out and had a couple of chances to step on them, but it didn’t happen.”
Stallings told his team before the game that he would be paying particular attention to second-half defense.
“I’ve never said that to a team before,” he quipped. “I didn’t know I was going to spur them to such greatness. Stellar.
“Sometimes it takes something like this before they really believe you. Hopefully we’ll learn something from this.”
Another source of concern for Stallings was rebounding, where Vanderbilt was beaten 44-35. The Pioneers grabbed 18 offensive rebounds, including 12 in the second half.
“That’s a bother,” Stallings said. “We have a couple of guys who don’t think they have a responsibility to rebound. We got out-aggressed in the second half.”
Gordon and freshman center A.J. Ogilvy led Vanderbilt with 17 points and seven rebounds each. Senior swingman Shan Foster did not score a basket and finished with six points.
Guard Kyle Moore poured in 30 points, including 18 in the second half, to lead Tusculum’s late charge.
“I didn’t think we’d let somebody get 30, but it was a little bit of an unsual game,” Stallings said.
Unusual, indeed. Even in an exhibition game, Stallings received a technical foul. Tusculum coach Jim Boone was ejected in the second half.
Trailing 72-62 with 5:40 remaining, the Pioneers surged back and eventually tied the game at 79 at 32.3 seconds to go on a three-pointer by Jordan Lear.
Gordon countered by driving into the teeth of the Tusculum defense and drawing a foul on Rob Zalucki. After Gordon made one of two free throws, a Pioneer desperation heave as the final buzzer sounded fell harmlessly short.
VU WOMEN ROLL: Vanderbilt closed the first half with a 20-0 run and rolled to a 76-41 victory over Anderson in a women’s exhibition game Monday at Memorial Gym.
The Commodores convincingly won both of their preseason exhibition games this month and open regular-season play 7 p.m. Friday at home against UAB.
“They know there’s a sense of urgency now,” VU coach Melanie Balcomb said of her team.
Center Liz Sherwood worked inside and scored a game-high 23 points. Jennifer Risper and Jence Rhoads each scored 10. Vanderbilt shot 50.9 percent from the field and made eight of 18 shots from three-point range.