Vanderbilt turns up the defense, wins long-awaited SEC title

Sunday, March 11, 2012 at 3:35pm
Staff reports

Jeffery Taylor and Festus Ezeli saved their best for last. Good thing too.

Taylor and Ezeli, both seniors, performed below their respective statistical averages in the previous two games but combined for 35 points and 18 rebounds as Vanderbilt won its first SEC tournament championship since 1951 when it defeated No. 1 Kentucky 71-64 Sunday at New Orleans.

“Our team is like that proverbial box of chocolates,” coach Kevin Stallings said. “You just don't know. I would like to say that I know and I would like to say that they're the pillars of consistency, but they're not.”

The Commodores (24-10) did not allow a field goal over the final 8:01 and finished the contest on a 17-5 run. In so doing they ended the Wildcats’ 24-game winning streak.

A layup and free throw by freshman Kedren Johnson with 1:35 to play capped a 10-0 run, broke a 62-62 tie and put Vanderbilt ahead to stay. Ezeli and John Jenkins combined to make six consecutive free throws after that.

The emotion of the victory was obvious as players celebrated and Stallings sat on the bench with a face buried in a towel.

“I couldn't be happier for my players because this season has had its ups and its downs and we have been the target of much criticism, and to my players' credit, they never let that get to them, they never let it create a seam in our squad or let it create any division in anything that we did,” Stallings said. “Kentucky, they set the bar. They set the bar nationally this year.  They set the bar in our league almost every year. They certainly did this year. They have got a great team.  So we're proud to have beaten them.

“Proud to have won a SEC championship.”

Kentucky (32-2) had won both regular season meetings between the teams and had a seven-point lead, 62-55, after SEC player of the year Anthony Davis made one of two free throws with 5:23 remaining.

Jenkins started the comeback when he made two free throws after being fouled on a 3-point attempt.

“I thought Vanderbilt played very well down the stretch,” Kentucky coach John Calipiari said. “We had our chances, we had our shots, we didn't make them. You got to give them credit. That game was over and then all of a sudden it's like basket, basket, basket [and] it's anybody's ballgame. And they played down the stretch well. Hats off to them. Congratulations."

Jenkins finished with 17 points and seven rebounds and was named the tournament’s most valuable player. He averaged 18.3 points and made 11 3-pointers in the Commodores’ three victories.

Taylor had 18 points and 12 rebounds after having combined for just eight points and five rebounds in the first two games. Ezeli, who was scoreless in Saturday’s semifinal victory over Ole Miss, added 17 points and six rebounds.

“That was the same Festus Ezeli [Sunday] that went scoreless [Saturday].  And the same Jeffery Taylor that scored two points [Saturday],” Stallings said. “So good for them that on an occasion like this they could rise up and give us a great game.

“Good for them.”

Davis and Terrence Jones each had 12 points and 10 rebounds for the Wildcats. Davis added three blocked shots and Jones had three steals — both game-highs.

“It's [a] huge confidence builder for us and we're going to go practice and get ready for the NCAA tournament now,” Jenkins said.

7 Comments on this post:

By: TITAN1 on 3/11/12 at 8:20

WTG, Vandy! Knocked off the NBA farm team! Good luck in the Big Dance, Was that Rump I saw jumping off the Woodland Street Bridge?

By: Ummm... on 3/12/12 at 4:44

I'm sure the Kentucky apologists will talk about Vandy being lucky or Kentucky looking ahead to the NCAA tournament, and honestly, they are (and should be) still ranked #1 in the country. But the bottom line is this: Vanderbilt, not Kentucky, is the SEC tournament champion! Congratulations, Commodores!

By: gdiafante on 3/12/12 at 5:46

Didn't find out about this one until late last night...didn't see this one coming, but I suppose if there's a bright spot for KY, they get that loss out of the way where it doesn't really count. Meaning, would you rather have a SEC title or national title?

Either way, congrats on the big win Vandy...I see that UT is in the NIT...LOL

By: Rasputin72 on 3/12/12 at 6:11

The entire season was this one game. The seniors will now put behind them for the rest of their lives the seven games that the entire world thought they should have won and did not. The downside of this wonderful victory is that Kevin Stallings has more lives than any cat that ever lived.

Now the team must concentrate on not losing to Harvard. Those of us who have seen this pre-season #7 team know that the Harvard game could be a disaster.

In any case for one shining moment on Sunday the Commodores beat the best in the country.

By: wiseguy1 on 3/12/12 at 7:04

It was good to see the team show up that was ranked preseason #7.

Rasputin old boy, not losing is different than winning. VU needs to concentrate on winning.

I think Goldbourne deserved more credit/publicity than he got for the Ole Miss game. Double Double ... 6 of his 10 points were put backs on missed shots. 12 rebounds ... huge inside presence.

By: joe41 on 3/12/12 at 8:51

Calipari can say all he wants about the conference tourney not being all that important, BUT, try to tell that to the 20,000 fans who followed Kentucky to New Orleans this past weekend. They didn't come to see the wildcats get defeated. YET, that is exactly what happened. They were soundly defeated and Davis looked mortal for the first time. Ezeli is MY HERO.

By: Dore4Life on 3/13/12 at 7:38

"In any case for one shining moment on Sunday the Commodores beat the best in the country."

And per usual, Rasputin72, who claims to be a VU supporter, cannot relish the moment for even a mere 24 hours following the championship victory because he is too ready and willing to see VU lose so he can talk about the downside of VU.

I for one, hope they keep playing as hard as they did on Sunday for the remainder of their season however long it is, because THAT is what a preseason #7 team in the country looks like. Win, lose, or draw, THAT is a team to celebrate!