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Vanderbilt puts away Arizona State late for 81-65 win

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The Commodores ended an eight-game losing streak against AP Top 25 teams.

NCAA Basketball: Arizona State at Vanderbilt Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

It took a spark from the bench for the Vanderbilt Commodores to get going on Monday night in their first game back after a 12-day break for final exams.

After spotting Arizona State a 9-0 lead in the game’s first four minutes, Aaron Nesmith finally got the Commodores on the board with a three-pointer with 15:45 left in the first half. But with the offense scuffling early on, Vanderbilt’s defense managed to keep Arizona State in check as they clawed back to within 11-10. After a Simisola Shittu layup knotted the game at 16, the Commodores went cold, letting Arizona State build a 25-16 lead with 5:56 to go in the first half.

And then Vanderbilt got a spark from the most unlikely of sources. Sophomore Maxwell Evans hit a three, then found Yanni Wetzell for a layup on the next possession. Then, Evans and Wetzell hit back-to-back threes to give Vanderbilt its first lead of the game with 4:08 left in the first half.

Vanderbilt wouldn’t relinquish the lead. Evans scored another bucket with ten seconds left to give Vanderbilt a 34-28 lead going into the half, and the Commodores kept the Sun Devils at arm’s length for most of the second half. But a pair of threes cut Vanderbilt’s lead to 62-59 with 3:56 left.

Bryce Drew called timeout to calm his team down, and then Vanderbilt responded to the threat by smashing it away. Simi Shittu manufactured a basket on Vanderbilt’s next offensive possession, a contested ten-footer that bounced off the glass and in. Then Joe Toye hit a big three to give the Commodores a 67-59 lead, and a huge block by Yanni Wetzell led to a breakaway for Saben Lee, who cashed in two free throws to put Vanderbilt’s lead back in double digits. From there, Vanderbilt coasted to an 81-65 win.

Saben Lee led Vanderbilt with 14 points, but the real story was the bench, which scored 36 of the Commodores’ 81 points. Vanderbilt, which improved to 7-2 on the season, will head to Kansas City on Saturday to play the Kansas State Wildcats.