Under normal circumstances, it is unthinkable for Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings to play Jeffery Taylor only six minutes in a half.
Saturday against Auburn, Stallings could think of any number of reasons that he kept his sophomore forward on the bench for 14 of the game’s first 20 minutes.
“It was more to do with the fact that he had two fouls,” Stallings said. “But it didn’t seem like as big a loss at the time because he wasn’t doing much.
“The second half he was terrific.”
Taylor scored all of his team-high 18 points after the break as Vanderbilt overcame an 11-point halftime deficit and defeated Auburn 82-74 before a sellout crowd of 14,316 at Memorial Gymnasium. Once Taylor finally got back in the game he made five of six shots from the field and all eight of his free throw attempts and committed just one foul in 16 minutes of action.
His play was the personification of the Commodores’ overall effort as they improved to 4-0 in Southeastern Conference play for the first time since 1965-66.
They actually trailed by as many as 16 during the opening 20 minutes, which matched their largest deficit at any point this season. Their shooting percentage in the second half was more than 20 points higher than it was in the first, and they had an 18-11 edge in rebounds after getting buried 22-10 on the boards through the first 20 minutes.
“I wasn’t on the floor in the first half, that was the difference (personally),” Taylor, who has started all 49 games of his college career, said. “It was my own fault, though. I just think in the second half I played a little more smart and just came out and was aggressive.”
He scored VU’s first points following the half with a three-point play after he got fouled on a layup. Twice before the second media timeout (the first whistle after eight minutes are played) he cut the deficit to three with jump shots.
“We didn’t forget about him, he was just better,” Auburn coach Jeff Lebo said. “He’s a driver of the ball. … He’s great at taking the ball to the basket right and left and he can finish around the rim. He’s athletic and he can finish around the rim. He’s tough to guard.”
When Taylor did not slash from the wings or along the baseline, A.J. Ogilvy wreaked havoc around the basket. The junior center finished with 17 points, eight rebounds and five blocks and was a big reason Auburn’s two big men, Johnnie Lett and Brendon Knox, both fouled out — the latter in just 12 minutes.
“You can’t make any 11-point plays, you just have to try to take it one basket at a time, get stops and rebounds, try not to let them get any runs and make sure we have a few runs of our own,” Ogilvy said. “We played better on the defensive end and got a spark from that. We got a couple scores and that helped get us going.”
The Commodores went in front for the first time when John Jenkins’ 3-pointer with 11:12 remaining made 55-53. That was during a 13-1 run.
They put it out of reach with a stretch of eight unanswered points, which began with 6:15 to go and included a ferocious one-handed dunk by Taylor of an assist from Jermaine Beal.
“I thought Jeff Taylor in the second half was a big key,” Stallings said. “In this first, he was one of many who wasn’t as on edge as we need to be if we’re going to be a good team.”
Of course, he wasn’t on the floor much either.
• Beal became the 40th player in Vanderbilt history to score 1,000 points in his career. He entered the contest with 993 and hit the milestone when his 3-point shot with 5:41 to go in the first half gave him eight points for the game.
• Sophomore guard Brad Tinsley scored 11 of the Commodores’ 32 first-half points and finished with a season-high 15. It was his first double-digit scoring game in the last seven and just his fourth of the season.
“I could see it coming,” Stallings said. “He had his best practice of the year on Monday and his second best practice of the year on Tuesday.”
• Vanderbilt has trailed at the half in three of its four conference games this season.
“We were lucky to survive a very poorly played first half,” Stallings said. “We did a decent job defending their threes. I’m happy to win, but wish we could have played a better, more consistent game throughout.”
• The full house was the season’s first at Memorial Gymnasium.