NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP)—The Vanderbilt Commodores have bounced back from a very painful loss with a winning streak that includes one of their best victories in recent years.
Shan Foster scored 25 points and Derrick Byars added 18 as the Commodores snapped a nine-game losing streak against ranked opponents Saturday by beating No. 25 Georgia Tech 73-64.
But on Nov. 28, Vanderbilt to lost to Furman on its home floor.
“We’ve come a long way in a week-and-a-half,” coach Kevin Stallings said. “I’m proud of how they competed.”
Vanderbilt (5-3) hadn’t beaten a Top 25 team since downing then-No. 19 Alabama on Jan. 5, 2005, a skid that included a home loss to then-Nov. 8 Georgetown to open this season. The loss to Furman was embarrassing—a Southeastern Conference team losing to a Southern Conference team?
But the Commodores have been working on a zone defense since then, and that helped them force Georgia Tech into 25 turnovers—including 11 steals—in their fourth straight victory.
“This was a signature win for us—no doubt,” Byars said. “We’ve just tried to build and improve on what we’ve done in practice. We’ve tried to improve our defense. We know we can score, so we’ve really been working on our defense.”
Thaddeus Young had 19 points for the Yellow Jackets (6-3), who hadn’t played since losing to Miami a week ago in their Atlantic Coast Conference opener. This was their third loss in four games.
“Give them credit, but making live ball turnovers is extremely deflating for a team,” Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt said. “When you make them, they are just very hard to overcome.”
The Commodores were playing their third game in five days.
They opened the game hitting seven of their first nine shots and led by as many as 13 points in the first half. They lost the lead by going cold, hitting only two of their final 14 shots, as Georgia Tech used a 14-0 run to take a 34-33 lead at halftime.
Vanderbilt took the lead for good with a 14-4 run started by three straight baskets by Foster. Byars added a 3-pointer with 12:06 to go, giving the Commodores a 51-50 lead they wouldn’t lose again.
Foster hit another 3—his fourth of the game—for a 63-52 lead with 7:32 to go. Georgia Tech scored nine of the next 11 points and trailed 65-61 after Javaris Crittenton’s runner with 2:20 left.
The Yellow Jackets turned it over when Crittenton couldn’t handle a pass from Zach Peacock with 1:05 remaining. Vandy sealed the victory at the free throw line, going 10-of-10 over the final 2:46.
Foster said they have been working on what went wrong against Furman, which helped them finish the game Saturday.
“We just had to exert our will and give it our best. That led to a great victory,” Foster said.
Alex Gordon added 14 points for Vanderbilt, which shot 50.9 percent.
Defense has been a big problem for Georgia Tech, which had been allowing opponents to shoot 59 percent. Senior guard Mario West said Vandy had shooters who got hot and stayed hot. Hewitt thought his Yellow Jackets could have done more.
“Defensively, you just have to make them miss,” Hewitt said. “You have to be in position, get a hand in their face and whatever necessary to force the miss. We just didn’t do that tonight.”
Sophomore guard Lewis Clinch came in averaging a team-high 18 points for the Yellow Jackets, who shot 45.2 percent. He had only six points in the first half and finished with 13. Jeremis Smith added 10.
“We just have to learn to play every possession like it’s the most important one of the game,” Young said. “We didn’t do that tonight, and it cost us.”
This was only the third time these teams have played since Georgia Tech left the Southeastern Conference, and the Yellow Jackets had won the first two, including a 76-67 victory in January in Atlanta.
But Georgia Tech has never fared well in Nashville, winning only once in 12 previous games at Memorial Gymnasium. That lone victory was in 1959.