If ever a team needed a victory, it was No. 19 Vanderbilt on Saturday.
Having lost four of its past five games, VU's season was on the verge of freefall. The Commodores responded by holding off pesky Auburn for a 78-71 victory before 13,990 at Memorial Gym.
“We needed a win,” VU coach Kevin Stallings said. “It didn’t make any difference how it looked or how it felt.”
The Commodores admitted self-doubt was creeping in after being blown out in recent visits to Florida and Mississippi.
“Losing two games in a row was kind of taking a toll on us a little bit,” Vanderbilt swingman Shan Foster said.
A.J. Ogilvy scored 19 points to lead Vanderbilt, which held on as Auburn chopped a 14-point deficit to one in the second half.
Unlike in recent games, when the Commodores drew Stallings’ ire with uninspired play, they made game-winning plays at each turn Saturday.
“I know they wanted to play well at home,” Auburn coach Jeff Lebo said of Vanderbilt. “We knew we were going to have our work cut out for us.”
Vanderbilt (18-3 overall, 3-4 in Southeastern Conference play) led 26-12 in the first half, but Auburn charged back in the second half, trimming the lead to 63-62 with 6:35 remaining on two free throws by Frank Tolbert.
Jermaine Beal answered for the Commodores, scoring seven straight points, including two baskets off steals. Ogilvy also scored inside, keeping Vanderbilt ahead 72-62 with 4:20 to go.
“We had a bunch of guys step up and make plays,” Stallings said.
Tolbert canned a 3-pointer with 2:16 to go, making it 72-66, but the Tigers (12-8, 2-5) got no closer.
“Beal made some big shots for them when we cut the lead to one,” Lebo said. “We could never just quite get over the hump.”
Tolbert, who scored a career-high 32 points, tossed in 11 in the first 4:59 of the first half, including three 3-pointers, to cut Vanderbilt’s lead to 42-38.
Later, a basket by Quan Prowell and a three-point play by Quantez Robertson chopped Vanderbilt’s lead to 45-43 with 13:34 remaining.
Foster, the team’s leading scorer, came alive after scoring only three points in the first, sinking back-to-back 3-pointers and adding another basket, keeping the Commodores in front, 55-47, with 11:08 left.
Ogilvy sparked Vanderbilt to its early lead, scoring 13 points in the first half against Auburn’s undersized frontline.
The Tigers made only two of their first 16 shots and made eight of 35 (23.1 percent) in the first half.
Beal tossed in a 3-pointer just inside the halfcourt line to beat the halftime buzzer, giving the Commodores their 12-point lead at the break.
Alex Gordon added 17 points for Vanderbilt, while Foster scored 16.