NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Vanderbilt put together a solid stretch when it needed it most late Friday and pulled away from visiting Valparaiso 77-71 at Memorial Gymnasium.
Vanderbilt trailed 59-54 with 6:52 before going into a different gear. An 11-0 run was highlighted by six Scotty Pippen Jr. points that helped the Dores go up 65-59. Maxwell Evans’ 3 with 2:41 left made it 68-61.
Valparaiso (0-1) didn’t have a comeback left in the tank.
Pippen – who was 14 of 14 from the line – led Vandy with a career-high of 25 points while Evans finished with 16. Dylan Disu pulled down 11 rebounds.
The Commodores (1-0) now head to the Roman Legends Classic in Connecticut where they’ll face Connecticut (1-0) at 4 p.m. CT Tuesday on ESPN2.
After Vanderbilt began the game with an 8-3 lead, Valparaiso responded with an 8-0 run and went ahead 11-8 on a Sigurd Lorange 3 from the left wing. Vandy got an Issac McBride 3 moments later to go up 16-14 and then back-to-back Ejike Obinna buckets to edge ahead 20-18 with 6 1/2 minutes to play in the opening half.
Three Pippen free throws put the Dores ahead 25-18 and an Evans 3 from the right corner allowed Vanderbilt to enjoy a 28-22 lead. Two more free throws from Pippen gave Vanderbilt it’s biggest lead at 32-23.
But the Crusaders came roaring back and got a 3 from Mileek McMillan at the buzzer to tie the game at 34-all going into the break.
Valparaiso hit seven of its 15 3s in the first half and took advantage of nine Vanderbilt free throws. The Commodores were 10 of 11 from the line while shooting just 10 of 26 overall.
Vandy began the second half a bit sluggish, but clawed back to take a 43-42 lead on a Disu dunk. That was part of a 9-0 Commodores’ run that included back-to-back finishes in the paint from Disu and Clevon Brown, respectively.
Pippen’s three-point play with less than 14 minutes to go gave Vanderbilt a 50-43 advantage.
But the Crusaders answered with a 12-0 run to get up 55-50 – another McMillan 3 followed by a Daniel Sackey layup finished the scoring barrage.
That would be the last major shift in momentum for the visitors as Vanderbilt went on to close out the win.
McMillan led the Crusaders with 18 points.