Comeback Effort Just Short

Commodores fall at No. 5 Auburn in league opener

AUBURN, Alabama — Vanderbilt trailed by as many as 14 on Wednesday in its Southeastern Conference opener at No. 5 Auburn, but refused to go away in what turned out to be a furious comeback effort before the Tigers ultimately held on for an exhausting 83-79 win inside Auburn Arena.

The Commodores tied the game at 79-all with 59 seconds to thanks to a pair of free throws from freshman Jordan Wright. But Vandy couldn’t capitalize on scoring chances after that and a costly turnover down 82-79 sealed its fate.

“Obviously we would have loved to have gotten the win,” Vanderbilt head coach Jerry Stackhouse said, “but I think we have some really good things to build on, some positives to build on and some things we know that we need to clean up.”

Auburn (14-0, 2-0 SEC), one of two remaining undefeated teams in Division I, got 62 combined points from Isaac Okoro (23), Anfernee McLemore (14), Austin Wiley (13) and Danjel Purifoy (12). J’Von McCormick also added 10.

Vanderbilt (8-6, 0-1 SEC) trailed by just four at the break, but couldn’t match Auburn’s rebounding prowess (39-28) or ability to score in the paint (38-28).

Saben Lee scored 27 to lead the Dores while Aaron Nesmith added 18 and Wright finished with 10. The Commodores return home at 2:30 p.m. Saturday to host Texas A&M (7-6, 1-1 SEC).

Vanderbilt hung tough through the early going and were ahead 8-6 after a Dylan Disu left-corner 3. A thunderous, right-handed dunk from Lee who had split the left side of the Auburn defense put the visitors ahead 15-13.



But Auburn responded with a 10-3 run to take a 23-18 edge on a pair of Okoro free throws. Okoro’s three-point play a few minutes later let the Tigers enjoy a 29-24 advantage and his step-back 3 from the left corner made it 34-28.

Lee scored nine straight during one stretch and had Vandy down just 34-33 with 3:14 remaining in the half. Auburn wouldn’t give up the lead but had just a 42-38 margin to think about during the break.

The Commodores shot 50 percent from the field and only turned the ball over four times in the first half, but missed five free throws and went the final 3:14 of the opening period without a made field goal.



Auburn started the second half on a 9-2 run as the Commodores went more than four minutes without a made field goal. Nesmith kept Vandy close with a long 3 from straight away that cut the score to 51-47 only before the Tigers responded with a 9-2 run that ended with Okoro’s one-handed dunk that brought the crowd to its feet.

Wright’s layup with six minutes remaining got the Dores within 69-61 and a Disu 3 made it 71-64 one minute later. A Nesmith layup with 3 1/2 minutes on the clock brought Vandy within 73-69 and another score from the sophomore made it 75-72 setting up the final few minutes that had the home crowd on the edge of their seat before celebrating an 11th-straight win at home for the Tigers.


• Vandy redshirt-sophomore Ejike Obinna started Wednesday for the second time this season.

• The Commodores now holds an 89-54 advantage in the series with the Tigers and a 35-31 mark at Auburn.

• Nesmith has 60 made 3s this season. The Vandy record for 3s made in one season is held by both Shan Foster (2007-08) and John Jenkins (2011-12) who each made 134.

• Lee now needs 24 points to reach 1,000 points and needs seven assists to reach 300 assists for his career.

• Nesmith and Lee have each scored in double figures in every game but one this season.

• Vanderbilt has made at least one 3 in 1,078 straight games.

Vanderbilt has now lost seven consecutive games to ranked opponents dating back to an 81-65 win over No. 17 Arizona State on Dec. 17, 2018. Vanderbilt’s last win over a ranked opponent on the road was a 68-66 win over Florida on Jan. 21, 2017.

• The Commodores are now 95-243 all-time against ranked opponents and 20-144 in road contests.

• Attendance on Wednesday was announced as 9,121.


Near Knockdown by Vanderbilt Athletics on Exposure