Vanderbilt surges past Auburn in SEC opener, 64-52

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) – Vanderbilt’s strong rebounding and a balanced scoring attack spoiled Auburn coach Bruce Pearl’s return to the Southeastern Conference.

James Siakam scored 14 points to lead four starters in double figures as the Commodores beat the Tigers 64-52 in front of 10,502 at Memorial Gym on Tuesday night.

“That’s a new positive for us and that’s a good positive,” Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said of his team’s 47-27 rebounding advantage. “If that becomes part of who we are that’s certainly going to build in a better margin for error for our young team because we overcame 19 turnovers.”

Pearl, a former Tennessee coach, appeared in his first SEC game since serving a three-year show cause penalty from the NCAA for lying about a cookout at his home for recruits in 2008.

Pearl replaced the fired Tony Barbee in March.

“When we don’t play with that energy, getting after people and turning people over, then what we do is just OK,” Pearl said. “I think our guys have learned that. Vanderbilt is a good team and they run good stuff.”

Vanderbilt (11-3, 1-0 SEC) extended its winning streak to four games in the conference opener for both teams.

The loss ended Auburn’s five-game winning streak.

Auburn (8-6, 0-1) lost its 15th straight SEC road opener and 10th consecutive game to Vanderbilt.

Vanderbilt’s Riley LaChance, wearing a faceguard to protect his broken nose, scored 13 points. He was named SEC Freshman of the Week for the second time Monday.

Vanderbilt’s Damian Jones added 11 points and Shelton Mitchell had 10.

Auburn’s Antoine Mason, a Niagara transfer who scored the Tigers first six points, led the visitors with 16.

Vanderbilt enjoyed a 35-17 edge on the defensive glass. Commodores forward Luke Kornet and Siakam each grabbed 10 rebounds. All 10 of Kornet’s rebounds were on the defensive end. Jones added eight boards.

“That was basically our game plan,” Siakam said of the rebounding advantage. “We knew there were a lot of rebounds to be had and that’s what we did. We just had to crash the boards really hard and it helped us win the game.”

Auburn’s K.T Harrell, who entered the game as the SEC’s second-leading scorer (17.9 ppg) was held to eight points on 3 of 9 shooting as Vanderbilt’s Jeff Roberson guarded him tightly.

“I knew coming in that they had one of the top, leading scorers in the SEC and it was going to be critical to kind of limit him because a lot of offense comes through him,” Roberson said. “So I went in trying to focus on defense, trying to limit him as much as possible. I consider myself a pretty good defender.”

Auburn’s Jordon Granger hit a 3-pointer to cut Vanderbilt’s lead to 55-50 with 2:13 left.

LaChance answered with a layup to increase the Commodores’ lead to 57-50 with 1:05 left.

Vanderbilt held a two-point lead when it went on a 12-0 run, boosting the Commodores’ advantage to 25-11 on Mitchell’s layup with 7:10 left in the first half.

Midway through the run Pearl called a timeout to try to change the momentum, but the Commodores kept pouring it on.

Auburn came out cold, missing 16 of its first 20 shots.

Vanderbilt hit 46.4 percent of its shots from the floor during the first 20 minutes to take a 33-19 halftime lead.

The Commodores nearly doubled Auburn’s rebound total in the first half with a 24-13 advantage.

Auburn narrowed the gap to 43-38 on Mason’s layup with 10:42 left.

Vanderbilt rallied, stretching its lead to 50-38 on LaChance’s 3-pointer with 9:10 left.

Auburn was seeking its longest winning streak since winning seven straight in 2008-09.

Pearl was 3-3 at Memorial Gym at Tennessee, including a 72-69 loss when Tennessee was ranked No. 1 in 2008.

His SEC winning percentage of 67.1 trails only Kentucky’s John Calipari (76.2).

Auburn hasn’t won at Memorial Gym since 2000.

Auburn’s Cinmeon Bowers, a junior college transfer who entered the game as the SEC’s leading rebounder, grabbed nine boards.

Vanderbilt: The Commodores went 7-11 in the SEC last year, including losses in their last five games.

Auburn: The Tigers were 24-60 in the SEC the last five years.

Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings praised the defensive work off Jeff Roberson as he held Auburn senior K.T. Harrell to eight points, nearly 10 below his average. “Jeff Roberson is a very tough kid and he’s not afraid of a matchup,” Stallings said. “He was so on-point tonight. I can’t tell you how good his defense was tonight. They run a lot of stuff for K.T. to get shots and Jeff was just there constantly. And that’s pretty good for a freshman.”

Auburn couldn’t get into a rhythm as the Tigers shot just 30.5 percent from the floor. The Tigers connected on just 18 of 59, including a 3 of 11 showing by Cinmeon Bowers, who scored seven points. Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said it was hard to explain, especially the 9 of 18 mark from the foul line. “Those are uncontested shots,” Pearl said.

Vanderbilt visits Arkansas on Saturday. Auburn hosts Missouri on Saturday.