Vanderbilt wanted to restore a sense of pride.
If an embarrassing loss to Tennessee a few days earlier wasn’t motivation enough, the presence of three former teammates provided a boost for the Commodores in a 63-56 win over Texas A&M on Saturday at Memorial Gymnasium.
Festus Ezeli, John Jenkins and Jeffery Taylor took in a game for the first time since all three were selected in the NBA Draft last June. The trio, who received a standing ovation from the 11,269 in attendance, witnessed some resiliency from the youthful Commodores.
Having dropped five of its last six, including a 58-46 beatdown at home on Wednesday to the Vols, Vanderbilt used timely 3-point shooting and stingy defense to answer with just its second win in the last seven games.
“We’re not going to give in,” coach Kevin Stallings said. “These kids are not going to give in. They’re not cut that way. Our staff is not cut that way. That is not what the program is about. Maybe they were inspired by those three guys who came back and shared some of their time with us. We may not be winning as many games right now as we want to win. But you know things are good and things are right in your program when the guys want to come back to it.”
Rod Odom scored 19 points and Dai-Jon Parker added a career-high 17 points for the Commodores (10-14, 4-8 Southeastern Conference).
Parker knocked down a personal-best five 3-pointers and Odom tied a career-high with four as Vanderbilt made at least 10 3-pointers for the fifth time this season. Clutch 3-pointers stymied a comeback by the Aggies (15-10, 5-6).
After trailing by as many as 13, Texas A&M pulled within seven twice late in the second half. Both times, the Commodores immediately answered. Kedren Johnson made a trey from the top of the key and Odom later sunk a 3-pointer on the left wing.
The Aggies stuck around and pulled within five in the last 90 seconds. Johnson responded by driving the lane before kicking out to Odom, who hit an open 3-pointer in the corner to seal the win.
“I like guys who shoot with conviction,” Stallings said. “I don’t want a guy shooting when he looks like, ‘Well, I’m open so I’ll shoot this but I don’t really want to.’ You don’t need to be timid. You don’t need to be hesitant. If you’re open and you can make it, jump up like you’re supposed to shoot it. And that is what those guys did. Almost everybody played well today.”
Vanderbilt also gave the Aggies fits on defense.
Texas A&M made just three of 12 3-pointers and scored only 21 points in the first half on 39.1 percent shooting. The Commodores also blocked five shots and held leading scorer Elston Turner to 14 points. He missed 12 of 19 shots after scoring 37 against Ole Miss Wednesday.
“I couldn’t really catch it in my sweet spots,” Turner said. “I had to go out towards half court because they were denying me and switching on a lot of the ball screens. They didn’t really extend their defense. They kept it packed in tight. They made me pass the ball.”
The win keeps the Commodores in sole possession of 11th place in the SEC with just six games left. While a postseason trip seems highly unlikely, Vanderbilt, for one day at least, showed there was something to play for.
“It says a lot about our guys that they came out and played as hard as they did because it would be easy to hang your head after a loss like that,” Odom said. “Tennessee beat us pretty good. That was definitely tough on us. I think it says a lot about our team that we managed to respond. I think that is big for us.”