DAVIDSON A furious rally over the final eight minutes put the Davidson Wildcats in position for an upset, but in the end, the athleticism of the Vanderbilt Commodores was too much to overcome in an 87-83 Vandy victory at Belk Arena on Wednesday.
Senior forward Jeffery Taylor had a career-high 30 points for the Commodores, who led 65-47 with eight minutes left before a De'Mon Brooks-led rally by Davidson cut the lead to three on two occasions in the final minute.
The Wildcats entered the game making nearly seven 3-pointers per game but misfired on 18 of their first 19 long-range tries as the taller Commodores challenged shots and gave the hosts very few open looks.
"They're not just big and athletic," Davidson coach Bob McKillop said of the Commodores. "They're very well-coached, they have tremendous basketball IQs and they're skilled."
McKillop said the Commodores aren't just a good SEC team, he said they're a great SEC team.
Even so, Davidson had a chance in the end.
It was 81-69 with 2 minutes, 13 seconds left. Brooks made two foul shots. Then came a turnover, followed by a Brooks 3-pointer. Another turnover led to a JP Kuhlman 3-pointer with 1:25 remaining, cutting Vanderbilt's lead to 81-77.
All of the sudden, the Wildcats were back in the game.
"They shouldn't be able to score that many in a row," Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said. "But they play hard. They play with great physicality."
The Commodores were nationally ranked until this week, dropping out after losing overtime games to Xavier and Louisville, both ranked among the top 12 in the country.
On Wednesday, they rode the dominating performance of Taylor to victory. Taylor, a 6-foot-7, 225-pount senior, scored on inside moves to the basket, on long-range jump shots and on rebounds.
Any type of breakdown by the Wildcats, no matter how minor, seemed to lead to a Taylor basket.
"He can beat you off the dribble, he can beat you off the pass," McKillop said.
Taylor connected on 12 of 17 shots, including all three of his 3-point attempts. When the Wildcats focused on him, other players stepped up for Vanderbilt, including Festus Ezeli, who played for the first time after missing the first six games of the season because of an NCAA violation pertaining to benefits.
"We don't win this game if Festus doesn't play," Stallings said. "No question about that."
Ezeli provided quality minutes that Stallings didn't expect.
His presence, along with Taylor and the guard tandem of Brad Tinsley and John Jenkins, was more than Davidson could answer.
Jenkins finished with 22 points, Ezeli had 15 and Tinsley eight for the Commodores.
Brooks scored 18 of his 24 points in the second half, finishing 9 of 12 from the field and hauling down a game-high nine rebounds. Fellow big man Jake Cohen added 18 points for Davidson. Kuhlman had 13 and Chris Czerapowicz added 10.