Vanderbilt shook off another pesky team on the road with a big second-half run and Commodores coach Kevin Stallings joined elite company on Saturday.
The 18th-ranked Commodores pulled away at Auburn for a 77-60 victory, courtesy of a 20-2 run late, and won back-to-back road games for the first time all season.
In 12 years with coach Kevin Stallings at the helm, Vanderbilt (20-6, 8-4 Southeastern Conference) has six 20-win seasons, which ties him with the program’s all-time wins leader, Roy Skinner.
“I am honored,” Stallings said in a postgame radio interview. “Anytime somebody says my name along with Roy Skinner’s, I am honored and privileged. I don’t deserve it but I’ll take it.”
Auburn (9-17, 2-10) hung around for most of the game. It trailed just 28-26 at halftime and tied it at 42 on a 3-pointer from Earnest Ross, who had 19 points, with more than 14 minutes left in the game.
That is when Vanderbilt, which has won five in a row, left the Tigers behind.
The Commodores scored 11 straight points — six from guard Brad Tinsley and five from forward Jeffery Taylor. That was just more than half of the run that put them up 62-44 with less than eight minutes remaining.
In a victory over Georgia on Wednesday, Vanderbilt finished on a 21-3 run.
“It was a huge four-minute war for us,” Taylor said of Saturday’s spurt. “When we get stops on defense and get rebounds, it leads to transition offense and we are good at finishing it.”
Taylor finished with 20 points and 10 rebounds and Tinsley scored 10 of his 16 in the first half.
But John Jenkins again stole the show. The SEC’s leading scorer finished with a game-high 22 points despite the fact that he missed his first five shots. He was 5-of-11 from 3-point range in a similar performance to his outing against Georgia, in which he was 0-for-6 to start before finishing with 21 points.
In fact, the first half at Auburn mirrored the one in Athens. The Commodores shot just 30 percent for only 28 points in the opening half against the Tigers, compared to 21 percent shooting for just 21 points against Georgia.
“I didn’t think we had the same energy in the first half that we have had in some other games,” Stallings said. “It was not a case of taking [Auburn] lightly. We knew they were going to be tough. ... We put some stuff together in the second half, started making some shots. We got behind their press and our offense started running smoothly.”
Vanderbilt center Festus Ezeli once again was a force inside defensively. He blocked five shots, two fewer than he had against Georgia. His seven against the Bulldogs were the most by a Commodore since Will Perdue blocked seven on Dec. 28, 1987.
Forward Andre Walker played in his first game since Dec. 29. He missed 13 games due to a high ankle sprain. It was just his ninth game of the season — he also missed four before Christmas break due to mononucleosis — and he finished with six points on 2-of-4 shooting in 11 minutes.
“We decided [Saturday] was the day for better or worse,” Stallings said. “He was afraid of his ankle a little bit but at the same time he gave us some good minutes.”
The Commodores return to Nashville for an 8 p.m. tip-off on ESPN Tuesday against Tennessee at Memorial Gymnasium.