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March 9, 2006The Vanderbilt Commodores were trying to do something they haven't been able to do in six previous tries: beat the Auburn Tigers in a SEC tournament game. The Commodores did just that in the opening round of the SEC Tournament on Thursday, defeating the Tigers 76-71.
The Commodores, who shot 51 percent from the field and struggled early to get rebounds, ultimately willed their way to the win down the stretch. Junior guard Dan Cage and sophomore forward Shan Foster sank a combined six free throws in eight attempts during the final minute of the game.
For the first time this season, both Foster and junior wing Derrick Byars scored 20 points a piece, as Foster scored 20 and Byars scored 21. Combined, the two shot 10-of-19 three pointers. It was a tail of two halves for both players, as Byars scored 13 points in the first half, while Foster scored 15 in the second half.
Foster just missed posting a double-double on the evening, grabbing nine boards with seven rebounds being from the defensive end. Senior forward Julian Terrell scored 13 points and had eight rebounds, while sophomore forward DeMarre Carroll scored eight points, grabbed six boards, and had five assists on the night.
The Auburn Tigers had four players score in double figures with Frank Tolbert pacing the Tigers with 18 points. Freshman point guard Quantez Robertson scored 17 points, shooting 50 percent from the field, while fellow freshman guard Rasheem Barrett scored 11 points. Tigers senior Ronny LeMelle finished his Auburn career with 13 points in 37 minutes of play.
In the first half, Auburn took an early lead when Frank Tolbert hit a three pointer on the game's first shot. The 'Dores quickly responded when DeMarre Carroll tipped in a missed three pointer by sophomore point guard Alex Gordon. However, the Tigers went on a 7-0 run before the Commodores responded with their own 8-4 run to get the score at 14-10 Auburn with 12:42 to go in the first half.
The Tigers led Vandy for the entire half, building eight point leads on two occasions. But the Commodores closed the gap heading into half time, when Byars hit a three pointer with .04 seconds left on the clock to bring the 'Dores within three at 34-31.
Auburn held a slight lead in rebounds at 16-15 and had forced the Commodores into seven turnovers. In the second half though, Vanderbilt out-rebounded the Tigers, 19-12 and committed just three turnovers.
Tolbert hit a jumper to start the second half, but Foster immediately answered with a three pointer off an assist from DeMarre Carroll. The Commodores later took a 40-39 lead when point guard Alex Gordon nailed a three point jumper.
From that point, Vanderbilt would lead by as many as six points before the Tigers went on a 7-0 run, taking the lead 50-49 with 11:50 to go in the game. In the next four minutes, both teams exchanged leads.
The Commodores took the lead for good when Shan Foster sank a three pointer at the 6:31 mark, giving Vanderbilt a 58-54 lead. The Commodores built the lead by as many as eight points before ultimately closing out the game with a 76-71 victory.
"Well, a very tough game as we expected," said Vanderbilt head coach Kevin Stallings after the game. "I told our players today that if they expected anything less than a forty minute game, then we were going to be in for a surprise. In the first half, Auburn really shot the basketball well from the perimeter. In the second half, I thought we did a little better job defensively and I thought we did a better job of rebounding the basketball. We got to the point of where we were controlling our defensive boards and I thought that was a big key."
"The biggest key of the game was probably Shan and Derrick coming out at the start of the second half and hitting those threes, We got our heads up and got our confidence back and got on a run and that gave us a lead. I thought the way that we started the second half was very important."
With the victory, the Commodores move their season record to 17-11 and will take the regular season SEC Champion LSU Tigers at 6:30 p.m. in the quarterfinals of the SEC Tournament. It was announced today that LSU will be without SEC freshmen of the year, Tyrus Thomas for the tournament due to an injury.