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The SEC's Worst Losses: Auburn (Part II)

Vanderbilt came back from an awful first half to beat Georgia and record their third winning streak of the season. They'll have a great opportunity to extend it against a 3-12 Auburn team. Can the 'Dores follow Rhode Island's lead and leave Alabama with a win?

The blue-on-blue uniform look is what you get when your team doesn't have a sponsor like Adidas and instead resorts to your coach's son's coloring book.
The blue-on-blue uniform look is what you get when your team doesn't have a sponsor like Adidas and instead resorts to your coach's son's coloring book.

Vanderbilt followed up one of their worst halves of basketball in 2013 with their best on Wednesday night, rallying from a 17-point deficit to upset Georgia at Memorial Gym. On Saturday, they'll have a chance to roll that momentum into a three-game winning streak when they travel to Auburn.

The Commodores got off to a 1-15 start from the floor and let Georgia run up a 34-17 lead late in the first half, but this team refused to give up. Vandy rallied behind a 16-0 spurt in the second half to take a six-point lead, then battled back for a game-winning shot after Kentavious Caldwell-Pope willed the Bulldogs back into this one. Vanderbilt trailed by a point when Caldwell-Pope, whose back-to-back threes tied the game with a minute remaining, dribbled the ball off his foot and out of bounds, giving the 'Dores one more chance to take the lead as time wound down.

Kevin Bright, who missed a key three-pointer on the previous play, drove into the teeth of a strong Bulldog defense, rose up for a jumper, and let it fly with a second remaining. The ball hit the rim, caromed into the air, and floated down through the net. Memorial Magic was back in play - Vanderbilt 63, Georgia 62.

The win was an enormous boost for a Vandy team that has too often been on the losing side of close games in 2012-2013. After teams like Ole Miss, Tennessee, and LSU were able to escape upset losses, the Commodores finally got the comeback victory they'd been building towards since topping Xavier back in December. This win could end up being the building block the 'Dores need to move forward in 2013-2014.

They'll have the chance to keep that confidence afloat against a team they've already beaten in 2013. Auburn has been bad in SEC play this year, stumbling to a 3-12 record. They've lost six straight since upsetting Alabama and they dropped a 12-point decision to Vandy just over a month ago.

The Commodores should have a solid blueprint ready to beat the Tigers once more, but they could always stand to learn more. Let's take a look at how Rhode Island beat Auburn on their home court in double overtime back in 2012.

Auburn (9-19 overall, 3-12 SEC, Unranked)

2nd Worst Loss: vs. Rhode Island (KenPom #165, CBS RPI #193) 72-78 (2OT)
Other Bad Losses: There are 18 of them.

Finally, I get to talk about the crushing disappointment from by home state that is Rhode Island basketball. The Rams are in the midst of a rebuilding year after canning NIT staple Jim Baron, and that's led to an 8-18 record with losses against Fordham, Norfolk State, and Virginia Tech. They were able to avoid another embarrassing loss by running to a six-point double-overtime victory in Alabama back in December.

URI was winless headed into this matchup, and it looked like they were headed for a sixth straight loss before Xavier Munford's buzzer-beating three-pointer sent this game into double overtime and gave the Rams all the momentum they'd need to win. Don't get fooled into thinking that this was an entertaining game, though. URI and Auburn combined for just one field goal in the final four minutes of regulation, and after Rob Chubb made a jumper with 2:27 remaining, neither team could buy a bucket and win this one in 40 minutes.

Munford, a 6'2" junior college transfer, had 33 points in the win. Freshman Jordan Price led the Tigers with 19.

Key to Destruction: Three point shooting. Both teams were potent from behind the line in Rhode Island's win against Auburn, but the Rams used their threes to bail them out in the first overtime and carry them to the win in the second. Munford's buzzer-beater extended the game by an extra five minutes after URI trailed by as many as five points in the first OT, then Nikola Malesevic's three pushed the Ram lead to five points and sealed this one up with a minute to go in the second OT. In all, Rhode Island shot 13-26 from behind the arc.

Keys to the Game:
  • Defend Frankie Sullivan out to the perimeter. URI held Auburn's leading scorer (14.4 ppg) to just seven points on a 3-14 night. That included a 1-9 showing from long range. Sullivan, a 6'1" senior guard, is a notorious chucker who is good for at least six three point attempts per night despite making only 28 percent of them. Vanderbilt can't afford to let him get hot, because his streaky shooting could be the key to a Tiger upset.
  • Rely on your backcourt and wings. URI got 65 of their 78 points from three players - Munford, Malesevic, and Andre Malone. All three are players who work best behind the three-point line and can create their own shots to keep defenses honest. Vandy can replicate that with Kedren Johnson, Kevin Bright, and either Dai-Jon Parker, Sheldon Jeter, or Kyle Fuller. If they can force Auburn to focus on the perimeter, it will open things up for Josh Henderson on the inside.
  • Need a clutch shot? Turn to Kevin Bright. Bright has come up big with the clock winding down for the Commodores this season. He hit the game-winning jumper against Georgia on Wednesday, and he hit what should have been the game winning three against Ole Miss back in January. We knew the German was tough, but who knew that the freshman had ice water running through his veins? It looks like his time with the German U-18 National team has given in an on-court stature that reaches beyond his status as a freshman.