LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP)—If Randolph Morris was going to save the season, Kentucky might need a Plan B.
Vanderbilt spoiled the sophomore center’s return from a 14-game suspension by beating the Wildcats 57-52 Tuesday night, its first victory in 29 games at Rupp Arena.
Shan Foster had 16 points for the Commodores (11-2, 2-0 Southeastern Conference), who beat Kentucky in Lexington for the first time since Jan. 28, 1974, at Memorial Coliseum—the longest drought of any SEC team.
“It’s only one game,” Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said. “As much as we would like for it to count for 10—and some of our fans think it does count for 10—it only counts for one.”
Kentucky (10-5, 0-1) entered the game reeling from the worst loss in coach Tubby Smith’s nine-year tenure just three days earlier at Kansas, a defeat the dropped the Wildcats out of the Top 25 for the first time since February 2001.
Is Smith worried about his team?
“Oh yeah, a lot of concern,” he said. “We really haven’t played a good game.”
The Wildcats had some reason for hope with the return of Morris, who was originally suspended for the season by the NCAA because of his association with a sports agency, but had the penalty reduced to 14 games.
Morris had 10 points and seven rebounds, providing a first-half spark, but Kentucky continued to struggle with its outside shooting. The Wildcats shot 35 percent from the field and at one point had made only one of 12 3-point attempts.
“We’re just not clicking,” Morris said. “We’ve got to get away from playing as individuals and play as one unit.”
Foster was 4-of-6 from 3-point range. DeMarre Carroll had 15 points for the Commodores, while Derrick Byars had 12 and Julian Terrell 11.
Vanderbilt built a 14-point lead in the second half, but Kentucky, behind the 16 points and four 3-pointers of Ravi Moss, regained the lead for the last time at 42-41 on a dunk by Sheray Thomas with just under 7 minutes to play.
Two free throws by Julian Terrell gave the Commodores the lead for good.
“They were hungry,” Moss said. “They were going to come in here and beat us tonight.”
In the second half, every big shot Moss made seemed to be topped by a bigger one from Foster.
“For some reason, the second half is when I make most of my shots,” Foster said. “Why? I don’t know, but I was trying to be more aggressive.”
Kentucky had a chance to tie with 7 seconds left, but Joe Crawford missed a 3-pointer.
“I hope some of their struggles tonight had something to do with us,” Stallings said. “I’ll have to go back to the tape and figure that part out.”
The Commodores scored the game’s first eight points, forcing Smith to sub all five starters just 4 minutes in. It’s a move he has tried several times this season, but this time, Morris was among the subs and he entered to thunderous applause.
Morris made his presence felt immediately, taking a pass in the paint and gracefully scoring on a layup. His physical play also drew two quick fouls from Vanderbilt’s Davis Nwankwo, forcing him out of the lineup.
Later, Morris stuffed a shot, although he didn’t get a block because a shot clock violation had been called. He did on a Commodores’ possession a few seconds later, though, slamming a would-be layup off the backboard.
“If it weren’t for Randolph, I don’t know what we would have scored in the frontcourt,” Smith said.