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#24 Vanderbilt Outlasts Alabama in the Clutch, 81-77

Kyle Fuller breaks out the "invisible girlfriend" celebration after draining a three against Alabama.
Kyle Fuller breaks out the "invisible girlfriend" celebration after draining a three against Alabama.

Few could have predicted a shootout with the Crimson Tide visiting Memorial Gym, but Thursday night's game turned into a horse race. In the end, the Commodores won by a nose.

Vanderbilt snuck past a very tough Alabama team 81-77 behind a solid team effort that saw four 'Dores in double figures on the night. 'Bama abused the home team in the paint, but Vandy got the stops they needed late in the second half after the team switched from zone to man defense. Though Anthony Grant's strategy of running Brad Tinsley through six or seven screens per possession was successful in creating space for his guards, the Tide couldn't find their range late, leading to Vanderbilt's fifth SEC win.

It was only the second game of the year that the Commodores won after trailing in the final two minutes. Alabama led 77-76 with just 27 seconds left after a seesaw second half produced seven lead changes. Instead of holding for the final shot, Brad Tinsley rolled off a high screen for a long jumper and was fouled by Trevor Releford. The shot went in, and soon after Tinsley made it 79-77 with a clutch free throw.

From there, things got a bit ugly. For the second game in as many weeks, a controversial call in the final minute affected the outcome of the game. Trailing by two points, JaMychal Green drove past Festus Ezeli on the baseline but was whistled for stepping out of bounds. However, replays didn't clearly back the call up, leaving Alabama's players, fans, and especially Coach Tony Grant seething in frustration. Vanderbilt earned a pair of John Jenkins free throws on the next possession, which sealed the close win for the Commodores.

Jeffery Taylor had a dominant performance, but played limited minutes in the second half thanks to foul trouble. He finished with 19 points and eight rebounds. John Jenkins added 20 points, while Tinsley and Ezeli scored 15 and 11, respectively. Green and Tony Mitchell were once again the fuel behind Alabama's offense, combining for 45 points on 16-25 shooting.

Vanderbilt pulled out the win despite allowing the Crimson Tide to shoot over 55 percent from the floor - a recipe that will usually end in disaster. Fortunately, the team's ability to score against Alabama's vaunted defense was the deciding factor tonight. Still, 'Bama's ability to score in the paint simply underscores how badly this team needs guys like Ezeli, Lance Goulbourne, Andre Walker, and Steve Tchiengang operating at full strength. Unfortunately, they'll only have 38 hours to rest up for Kentucky.