NASHVILLE — Malik Dunbar waited, stationed at the corner of the 3-point line. Jared Harper received the inbound with about a minute left on the clock in the second half and only up by six. He charged up the court and kicked it out to Dunbar. Dunbar took flight and launched the dagger three that would crush the dreams of a Commodores comeback.
Nineteen years to the date, Auburn snapped its losing streak at the Memorial Gymnasium with its 64-53 win over Vanderbilt on Saturday.
The first half was a back-and-forth affair with six lead changes. It was a nail-bitter of a start since the lead was never more than four points. The Tigers knocked down four 3-pointers to Vanderbilt's three.
The defense was the great divide between these teams in the first half. The Tigers were able to create 10 turnovers to the Commodores’ five. These turnovers were the product of Auburn’s aggressive full court press which generated five steals in the first half. Auburn forced the Commodores to 9-25 in shooting for the first half.
“Our defense was very good tonight,” said Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl. “We turned them over 19 times and did an excellent job of pressing up on those three balls.”
The Tigers came out of halftime shooting hot with big 3-pointers from Bryce Brown and Harper. Harper would go on to score 16 points and dish out eight assists.
“Harper was our quarterback,” Pearl said. “He’s the captain of that team and was getting everybody great looks.”
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Much like the first half, it was the Tiger’s defense that was the star of the show after halftime. Auburn would go on to finish the game with six blocks and 10 steals.
Despite the Tigers getting into foul trouble late in the half, and a battalion of Commodores going to the free throw line Vanderbilt could not pull ahead. The Tigers defense played well but Vanderbilt's Aaron NeSmith and Yanni Wetzell recorded double-doubles. NeSmith ended the game with 24 points and 14 rebounds. Wetzell scored 10 points and 10 rebounds.
“I was proud of our guys and the way they played even after they got into foul trouble,” said Vanderbilt head coach Bryce Drew.
Vanderbilt's poor free-throw shooting in the first half was what helped the Tigers ultimately break away. The Commodores came out shooting just 30 percent from the line, while Auburn hit 80 percent from the charity stripe. The Tigers would end the game shooting 72 percent from the line and going 21-29.
With this loss Vanderbilt (9-16, 0-12) remains without a win in the SEC this season and Auburn (17-8, 6-6) has moved back to .500 in conference play.
Looking forward the Tigers will depart Music City and head back home to The Plains to face off against the Arkansas Razorbacks (14-10, 5-6) on Wednesday.
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