For one half, the Commodores looked flat, turned the ball over, and blew a big lead. Fortunately, this time it was just the opening frame.
Vanderbilt came back strong in the second half and ignited their offense with crisp passing to drive the 'Dores to their second SEC win, 84-74 over Ole Miss. The team exploded for 23 points in the first seven minutes to open up a double-digit lead over the Rebels. However, history looked to be repeating itself when Andy Kennedy's team clawed back and took a one-point lead with 6:44 to go. Unlike the South Carolina and Tennessee games, the 'Dores had an answer at home.
John Jenkins crushed a three and Jeffery Taylor turned a botched alley-oop in transition into an and-one layup to give Vanderbilt a lead that they never relinquished. Vanderbilt stretched that to a 12-0 run behind tough post play from Festus Ezeli and solid free throw shooting. In a three minute span, Ezeli fouled out Rebel big men Reginald Buckner and Steadman Short as the 'Dores took advantage of the mismatch in the paint and pulled away for the victory.
Lance "Uppercut" Goulbourne followed up his worst game as a Commodore with his best, owning the glass and posting a double-double with 14 points, 16 rebounds, and 5 assists. Every starter had at least 14 points for Vanderbilt, and Jenkins and Ezeli combined for 36 points - including a 10-12 night at the free throw line for Big Fes. Defensively, Vandy limited Chris Warren's scoring attack by holding him to just 5-15 shooting, forcing players like Dundrecous Nelson and Terrance Henry to step up. While the Rebels distributed the scoring load well behind Warren, it wasn't enough to hold the team's halftime lead.
Vanderbilt's offense came alive in the second half as ball movement and smart play became the focal point of the team's gameplan. Jeffery Taylor focused on driving to the paint, John Jenkins worked to find open shots and didn't force bad threes, and the team as a whole emphasized getting the ball to Ezeli down low. As a result, the team's offense looked crisper than it had all season in the second half. It was an encouraging showing after a weak start suggested that this team didn't have the fire they needed to come back strong after the Tennessee loss.
Vanderbilt is still a flawed team, but they didn't allow Ole Miss to build the momentum they needed to steal a league win from the Commodores. A +15 rebounding advantage and just four turnovers in the second half are the kinds of numbers this team needs to post to prove that they're a real threat in the SEC in 2011. The team's composure was on display over the last six minutes of this game, and while much of that can be tied back to the edge of playing at Memorial Gym, it's still a big step forward from last Saturday's loss.