Two second-half rallies and clutch 3-point shooting by John Jenkins couldn’t bail out Vanderbilt.
Rod Odom’s 3-pointer at the buzzer bounced off the back of the rim and the Commodores fell 74-71 to West Virginia in the semifinals of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off on Friday in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
“We have a first-class group and I am proud of them,” Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said.
Vanderbilt (2-1) will now play the loser of the North Carolina-Minnesota game in the third-place game at 4:30 p.m. on Sunday. The game will be aired on ESPN2.
Against West Virginia (3-0), the Commodores erased deficits of 14 and 11 points. They trailed 68-59 with 4:01 left but Jenkins responded with nine straight points. The sophomore guard made a 3-pointer, converted three free throws after being fouled while attempting a trey and nailed another 3-pointer with 1:59 left to tie the game at 68-68.
Casey Mitchell, though, had the last say. The West Virginia guard got open and knocked down a 3-pointer with 3.8 seconds left for a 74-71 lead. He finished with 31 points and was 6-of-12 from 3-point range.
After Mitchell’s 3-pointer, Vanderbilt moved the ball to halfcourt and call a timeout with three seconds left. Out of the break, the Commodores tried to get the ball to Jenkins but he couldn’t get free from West Virginia defenders. So Odom, a freshman, got the ball and heaved a 3-pointer from the top of the key that missed the mark.
“I had a better play (for the last shot) and I got talked out of it,” Stallings said. “I don’t pay those assistant coaches to suck their thumbs ... and I’m mad at myself (for being talked out of my idea)."
The Commodores trailed by as many as 14 when Mitchell hit a 3-pointer with 10 seconds left in the first half.
Thanks to several trips to the free-throw line and big 3-pointers by Jenkins – he made five and finished with a career-high 27 points -- Vanderbilt came all the way back to tie it at 52-52 on a free throw by Brad Tinsley with 9:53 to go.
Both teams exchanged baskets and then Mitchell went on a tear. He scored 11 of his team’s next 14 points. He sunk three 3-pointers, including a trey with 5:17 remaining for a 66-55 lead.
“He is a great shooter and it doesn’t surprise me (he had that sort of performance),” Jenkins said. “He was hot and we couldn’t get to him.”
Odom had 11 points and Tinsley added 10. Kevin Jones scored 12 points and grabbed 11 rebounds and Darryl Bryant had 11 points for West Virginia.