Vanderbilt didn’t have many shining moments on offense Thursday but scored enough to survive.
John Jenkins and Steve Tchiengang had big buckets down the stretch and the Commodores' defense held strong, clamping down Nebraska for a 59-49 victory in the opening round of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Vanderbilt (2-0) finished the game on a 16-3 run and held the Cornhuskers (2-1) to 21 second-half points on 6-of-21 shooting from the field.
“I’m proud of our team. We didn’t play very well and Nebraska had a lot to do with that,” Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said afterwards during his postgame radio interview with David Shumate. “Some games you just have to win. I told our team afterwards it is not an art contest, it is a math contest.”
Vanderbilt advanced to the second round to play West Virginia at 11:30 a.m. on Friday. West Virginia, a Final Four team last season, defeated Davidson in the first game of the tournament earlier Thursday.
Trailing 46-43, Jenkins made his only 3-pointer and then followed with a jumper with 5:45 left. The basket put Vanderbilt up 48-46 and turned the momentum. Then with less than three minutes left, Tchiengang sank a 3-pointer for a 54-48 lead.
Nebraska, which was 0-for-10 from 3-point range, couldn’t recover and Vanderbilt made enough free throws to pull away. The Commodores were just 18-of-26 from the free-throw line and were outscored 28-12 in the paint.
The Cornhuskers used their big bodies – they have four players at least 6-foot-10 – to keep Vanderbilt at bay for most of the game. Nebraska won the rebounding battle 37-34 and had 10 second-chance points. The Cornhuskers led for much of the first half and Drake Beranek hit a jumper right before the buzzer for a 28-26 halftime lead.
Jenkins finished with a game-high 22 points and Jeffery Taylor added 14. Brandon Ubel led Nebraska with 10 points.