VU in first SEC final in 61 years


NEW ORLEANS (AP) – John Jenkins scored 23 points, Brad Tinsley added 12 and Vanderbilt beat Mississippi 65-53 in the Southeastern Conference tournament semifinals on Saturday.

It’s the first trip to the SEC championship game for Vanderbilt (23-10) since 1951, when the Commodores beat Kentucky 61-57. They’ve finally got another chance at a title thanks to timely outside shooting from Jenkins and Tinsley, who combined to hit five 3-pointers in the second half.

After a cold first half, Vanderbilt hit 50 percent (6 of 12) from 3-point range in the second half.

Vanderbilt outrebounded Ole Miss 36-29. Lance Goulbourne added 10 points and 12 rebounds for the Commodores, who will play top-ranked Kentucky on Sunday.

“I think that the last two days that we have shown that we’re not one dimensional,” Vanderbilt Head Coach Kevin Stallings said. “We can guard, we can rebound, and we can shoot, too. We can make shots. We haven’t done it down here yet, but I’m glad I’m not sitting in here having a press conference saying, ‘usually we just shoot better than that. If we would have made some shots, we would have won.’ ”

Ole Miss (20-13) briefly took a 32-31 lead early in the second half, but Vanderbilt eventually buried the Rebels with well-timed 3-pointers and relentless defense.

The Rebels were led by Jarvis Summers, who scored 15 points. LaDarius White added 13.

Ole Miss had the pace it wanted from the opening tip – a deliberate, half-court game that kept it close.

jenkins27531012.jpgThe Rebels have been a difficult matchup for teams all season despite having serious deficiencies on the offensive end, making up for it with defense, rebounding and sheer hustle. It allowed them to get past Auburn and Tennessee in the first two rounds of the tournament, but even coach Andy Kennedy has admitted the energy expended on a nightly basis makes it a very difficult way to win consistently.

Neither team shot well in the first half, but Jenkins hit a pair of late baskets, including a 3-pointer, to push Vanderbilt ahead 25-23.

Ole Miss took a brief 32-31 lead on Holloway’s free throw with 16:12 remaining, but it appeared the Rebels simply ran out of their usual boundless energy. They failed to close on shooters like Jenkins, who hit a pair of crucial shots from beyond that arc, including one that put Vanderbilt in front 49-40 with less than nine minutes remaining.

Ole Miss made one last run, pulling within 49-44 with 7:24 remaining, but then it was Tinsley’s turn to hit a few big 3-pointers, and Vanderbilt went on an 8-0 run to put the game away.

“We knew it wasn’t going to be an easy game,” Stallings said. “We have been on the other end of that third game in three days and it’s almost like when halftime comes of that third game, when the other team’s (playing) their second game, there’s just something that’s different. It happened to us last year. We played Florida and we had a really good first half, and came out, and they busted us in the second half.”

The Rebels do have some hope for an NCAA tournament at-large bid, though they appear to be a longshot. Kennedy has not been to the tournament in any of his first five seasons and the program hasn’t qualified since 2002, which is the longest drought in the SEC.

Notes: Vanderbilt is 1-0 all-time in SEC championship games, winning the 1951 title over Kentucky (61-57). Vanderbilt was 1-10 all-time in the SEC Tournament semifinals before Saturday’s win. Vanderbilt will face top-seeded Kentucky at noon CT Sunday on ABC. Kentucky has won both meetings with Vanderbilt this season.