NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Coming off perhaps its most-disappointing loss of the season, Vanderbilt turned in perhaps its best victory in the early part of the campaign Tuesday.
The Commodores (6-2) were often unstoppable in the second half as they pulled away from Buffalo for a 90-76 win at Memorial Gymnasium.
“This is a big win,” Vanderbilt head coach Jerry Stackhouse said. “We’ll look back at this at the end of the year and be really proud because I think that’s a tournament team that’s going to cause guys a lot of problems.”
Tuesday’s ending was a polar opposite of sorts from the beginning. The Bulls (5-3) raced out to a 10-1 lead as Vandy struggled to find the bottom of the bucket.
But five minutes into the contest Saben Lee came off the bench – and Buffalo had no answer for the junior guard.
Lee finished with a new career-high of 25 to go along with four rebounds, four assists and two steals. He was 8 of 15 from the field and a crisp 8-for-8 from the line.
Thirteen of Lee’s 25 came in the first half as the Commodores began to spread the ball around offensively and aggravate Buffalo on the defensive end.
“When I go in I try to impact the game anyway I can with defense,” Lee said. “I really wanted to get in the ball defensively. I’ve been trying to cause havoc with the point guard. It starts with defense. That’s what I did.”
Sophomore Aaron Nesmith, who finished with 16, sank a pair of free throws with 5:15 to go until halftime and gave Vandy a 31-30 lead. The Dores never trailed again.
Nesmith buried a 3 with 26 seconds to play, drew an offensive foul on the other end on the ensuing possession and then senior Clevon Brown beat the buzzer with a left-wing triple to put Vandy ahead by 13.
Five different Commodores scored to start the second half as the Bulls just didn’t have an answer defensively.
“Normally it’s a game of ebbs and flows. They weren’t really able to put together a sustained run in the second half,” Stackhouse said. “Credit to our guys, but it’s just something that’s a natural thing that happens. When you have a little separation then naturally there’s a letdown. I thought our guys just kept our foot to the pedal and that is a sign of growth. Hopefully you’ll continue to have that type of growth.”
Normally a dangerous three-point shooting team, Vandy only made four of its 18 long-distance attempts. But it more than made up for that with a 22 of 26 mark from the line and a whopping 56 points from inside the paint.
Ten different Commodores scored as well, including seldom-used guard Isaiah Rice. His first-half 3 sparked an 11-0 run.
“This was a great, hard-fought win. From the start I thought our guys really paid attention to detail,” Stackhouse said. “This is a really good team that we played tonight. Buffalo, I don’t think there’s any team that we scouted so far this year that presented as much as a challenge for us because they have number of guards that can shoot the 3, that can play off the bounce, they share the ball with each other.
“They’re one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the (country) and we’ve struggled a little bit with rebounding the ball so far. So I’m really proud of our group.”
Vanderbilt now has a 10-day layoff before returning to the Memorial Gymnasium floor where it will host Liberty (10-0). It will enjoy that break thanks to Tuesday’s victory – and by knowing it can bounce back after defeat.
“I feel like last game we just weren’t being who we were,” Lee said. “Coach Stackhouse, during film, he told us what we needed to do and get back to our principles. I feel like just coming out today we just did those things and applied those things.”