Vanderbilt basketball could have mailed in the rest of the season after blowing a five point lead with 15 seconds to play against Tennessee. Instead, they rallied to beat Alabama on the road in a confidence-building 76-68 win on Saturday.
Five different players scored in double figures for the Commodores, led by Damian Jones's 20 points. The team made 28 of their 35 free throws three days after poor shooting from the charity stripe had doomed the 'Dores against UT.
Vandy began to swing the momentum in their favor late in the first half. The visiting team trailed 33-28 when Wade Baldwin drew a foul driving to the basket - a foul that was compounded with two bonus free throws when Michael Kessens was assessed a technical for pushing the ball into the face of a Commodore in the ensuing fray. Baldwin and Riley LaChance made all four and gave the 'Dores something to build from at the half.
"We got annihilated in the first half," Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings told reporters. "We talked about three things at halftime - guarding the ball better, not putting them on the foul line and rebounding the ball better."
The 'Dores managed to protect the ball well - they committed just six turnovers for the game - but rebounding was still an issue. Alabama was outsized but still pulled down 14 offensive rebounds and held a 58-44 advantage in shots taken. Fortunately, a solid defensive effort prevented the Tide from making more than 40 percent of their field goals.
That composure was amplified as the game wore down. Vanderbilt trailed with four minutes to play but looked like the fresher team as they rallied for a key road win. The 'Dores had missed five of their final nine free throws in their come-from-ahead loss to the Volunteers. They made 10 of their last 11 in a hostile environment to ice Saturday's victory against Alabama.
The win improved Vanderbilt to 14-11 overall and 4-8 in SEC play. Alabama dropped to 15-10 and 5-7 in the league. The Commodores will return to the hardwood when they head to Gainesville to face a struggling Florida team. The Gators have lost four in a row dating back to their 67-61 defeat in Nashville on February 3rd.