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Vanderbilt Defense Bows Up, Lifts the Commodores to Their First SEC Tournament Title Since 1951

Jeffery Taylor takes 61 years of SEC Tournament failure to the rack on Sunday.
Jeffery Taylor takes 61 years of SEC Tournament failure to the rack on Sunday.

So this is what SEC Tournament success feels like.

Vanderbilt defeated #1 Kentucky in their first SEC Title game since 1951, winning 71-64 in a barnburner Sunday afternoon. The 'Dores avenged a pair of close losses to the Wildcats with their best game of the season, finally knocking off John Calipari's team when it counted the most.

It may have been Vanderbilt's first trip to the SEC Tournament final in over 60 years, they they certainly didn't look like a team that was rattled by the big stage. The Commodores took the fight to Kentucky all game, putting together one of their best performances of the season thanks to a balanced offense attack and strong interior defense.

The two teams battled tooth-and-nail in a dogfight that featured multiple lead changes and gritty play in the paint. Vanderbilt trailed 62-57 with just over four minutes to play, but came back behind a gutsy performance to lock down the victory in the game's waning moments.

That rally was nearly done in by a lack of finishes at the rim. The 'Dores got plenty of close looks and opportunities to turn a pair of free throws into a three-point play. However, the team couldn't get the rolls they needed to make the most of these opportunities. The misses took points off the board for the Commodores - something that they couldn't afford to do against the country's best team.

However, that Vandy defense bowed up when it counted most to get this team back in the game. Vanderbilt shut down Kentucky's interior scoring, and when the Wildcats couldn't connect from outside, they pulled off the comeback and gave this year's seniors a defining moment and a place in Commodore history.

John Jenkins, Jeffery Taylor, and Festus Ezeli - a junior and two seniors who are all expected to be selections in this year's NBA Draft - left an indelible mark on the the final SEC Tournament game of their careers. The trio combined for 52 points and 25 rebounds to lead this team to victory. Vandy got big contributions from a less likely source as well - freshman Kedren Johnson. Johnson stole Brad Tinsley's playing time in the final minutes of the game and helped lead this team to victory with heady play and opportunistic scoring.

The win will give this team confidence heading into next week's NCAA Tournament. The 'Dores were originally slated for a five or six seed in the tourney but could climb as high as a three after today's victory. Their next opponent will be announced when the bracket is unveiled later today.