The shots from long range finally missed.
Riding the 3-pointer the last six games, Vanderbilt had to seek other avenues in order to score Saturday. So the Commodores willed their way inside.
While the process wasn’t always pretty, they reached the free-throw line 44 times. That proved to be the difference in a 77-66 victory against Georgia in front of a sold out crowd of 14,316 at Memorial Gymnasium.
The Commodores (13-4, 3-0 SEC) picked up their seventh straight victory by sinking 30 of their 44 free throws – the most they’ve made since hitting 35 against Belmont on Dec. 5, 2010 – over the last five minutes.
“Coach [Kevin Stallings] has been talking about how we’re not going to be shooting 60 percent from 3 and hitting 13 3s a game for the whole season,” forward Lance Goulbourne said. “In practice [Saturday] we weren’t hitting as many shots from the outside. ...[So] we weren’t expecting to hit a whole bunch of 3s. When we knew they weren’t going in, we started to get inside.
"Shooting 44 free throws in a game is huge.”
In their previous six games, the Commodores shot 47.8 percent from 3-point range with an average of 11.8 made 3-pointers. They were just 5-of-15 (33.3 percent) against Georgia, and guard John Jenkins missed eight of 11 on his own.
Unable to really separate from the pesky Bulldogs (9-8, 0-3), Vanderbilt started to look inside and ultimately scored 32 points in the paint. Even if the buckets didn’t fall, the Commodores drew contact. Georgia was whistled for 26 fouls, and three post players fouled out.
“We struggled the first 10 minutes of the game and from then on we wanted to be aggressive and get the ball in the paint, whether that be throw it to Fes [Ezeli] or by the drive,” forward Jeffery Taylor said.
Georgia stayed within six for the first 37 minutes and got within two, 62-60, on a 3-pointer by Vincent Williams with 4:39 left.
Vanderbilt tightened on defense and kept freshman Kentavious Caldwell Pope, who had a game-high 19 points off four 3-pointers, and his teammates from getting clean looks on the perimeter. Georgia made just two buckets over the last seven minutes.
The Commodores had problems making shots from the field, too. But their last one came at a critical time. Up 66-60, Ezeli missed two straight free throws, but Goulbourne grabbed a one-handed rebound and stepped up for an easy putback with 2:59 remaining.
Georgia got no closer than five after that as the Commodores made eight of 10 from the foul line over the last two minutes.
“I was trying to make a play and give the team some energy,” Goulbourne said of the rebound, one of his six. “I was a little frustrated all game and I kind of willed my way into getting that rebound and getting that basket. I think that kind of got our energy going a little bit. We were able to keep going and finish the game pretty strong.”
Jenkins led the team with 18 points, making all nine of his free-throw attempts. Taylor added 16 points and nine rebounds, despite just 7-of-13 shooting from the foul line. Goulbourne finished with 13 points.
The win was important for Vanderbilt in the SEC race. The Commodores joined No. 2 Kentucky as the only undefeated teams in league play.
“Not a thing of beauty,” Stallings said. “But over the course of 16 games, it’s not going to be pretty all the time. So we won one that was a little ugly [Saturday] and we’ll take it.”
• Taylor received a technical foul with 1:21 left.
After he was called for a personal foul while trying to box out on a missed free-throw attempt, Taylor “yelled something” in front of a referee, who apparently took offense.
Georgia’s Dustin Ware sunk two free throws to cut the deficit to 70-66. But Tim Dixon missed the front end of the one-and-one. After a turnover by Goulbourne and missed layup by Georgia, Goulbourne got the ball back, drew a foul, and made two huge free throws.
“I didn’t say anything to the referee,” Taylor said. “They had warned me before on the free-throw boxouts. They thought I was hooking the other player so they called the foul. I got a little frustrated and as I was running back I yelled something. ... Nothing was directed toward the referee who called it. Nothing was directed toward any of the referees, really. So he just heard it and he called it. It is what it is.”
• Nashville native and Tennessee State transfer Gerald Robinson scored 15 points for Georgia.
The senior guard, who played at Martin Luther King High School, was 4-of-13 from the field, missed all five 3-point attempts and committed five turnovers.