NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - The Vanderbilt Commodores insist they learned a very painful lesson about protecting a lead in the Southeastern Conference.
John Jenkins and Festus Ezeli scored 18 points apiece and Vanderbilt beat No. 24 Georgia 73-66 on Wednesday night to snap the Bulldogs' nine-game winning streak and ruin their first game back in the Top 25 since the end of the 2003 season.
The Commodores (12-3, 1-1) bounced back after blowing their SEC opener with an overtime loss at South Carolina last weekend that knocked them out of the rankings. This time, they never trailed while improving to 52-13 against the Bulldogs at home.
``We're hungry because we're still mad about that game, still got a bad taste about that one,' Ezeli said. ``I mean we didn't play to our abilities and potential.'
Georgia (12-3, 1-1) had its own problems, having to bus in from Athens, Ga., on Tuesday because of a winter storm. The Bulldogs had such trouble even getting a bus they missed practice.
Coach Mark Fox refused to blame the travel problems for the poor play and his Bulldogs' first loss since Nov. 26 against Temple.
``I thought Vanderbilt played with real determination and focus, probably played with greater purpose than we did,' Fox said.
The Bulldogs never got closer than three in the second half. Travis Leslie led the Bulldogs with 21 points, Gerald Robinson added 20 and Trey Thompkins had 13. Now they'll be sticking around Nashville until they travel to Mississippi for their next game Saturday. Fox said they would figure out on the fly what they're doing.
``We'll have to get the local tourism guide and Internet sites to see what we have to do. It's just part of the game,' Fox said.
Jeffery Taylor had 15 points for Vandy. Ezeli had a double-double, also grabbing 10 rebounds.
Vanderbilt couldn't protect a lead at South Carolina and lost 83-75 even though they never trailed in regulation. This time, before a sold-out crowd, the Commodores led 40-32 at halftime and stayed in front throughout.
``We didn't want that to happen again,' Jenkins said, remembering the disaster against the Gamecocks.
The Commodores outshot Georgia all over the court, with their biggest advantage coming at the free-throw line - 25 of 35 compared to 11 of 15 for the Bulldogs. Fox declined comment when asked about the disparity at the line. Ezeli was 6 of 10 at the line himself.
``We've been good at getting people in foul trouble,' Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said. ``That was a big key to the game tonight. (Georgia was) fighting foul trouble, and a lot of that has to do with Festus. He got in a position where they had to foul him.'
Robinson scored 24 points against Vanderbilt as a freshman when the Nashville native played for Tennessee State. He also has played a bunch of pickup games on this floor, and the Georgia transfer opened by hitting his first three shots - all 3s. He also scored six points in a stretch, the last a pair of free throws that pulled the Bulldogs to 56-53.
``It would have been good to come in here and get a win,' Robinson said. ``It was the second time I've played in this gym, and I was really excited to come in here and get a win with a different team. I guess we'll have to get it next time.'
That was as close as they got in a game that had Fox upset enough that he walked almost out to midcourt with 5:03 left, drawing a technical.
``I got what I asked for,' Fox said.
Jenkins, who has played against Robinson plenty in the past, answered Georgia's push with two free throws of his own. Ezeli scored on a three-point play and Jenkins hit a 3 to push the lead back to double digits. Ezeli later followed up a missed dunk by Taylor by slamming the ball through.
The Commodores led by as many as 11 in the first half thanks to an 11-2 spurt that included Taylor's high-flying, one-handed, tomahawk dunk off an alley-oop pass from Kyle Fuller. Rod Odom and Brad Tinsley capped the run with back-to-back 3s for a 33-22 lead.
``It's kind of a crowd pleaser,' Taylor said of the dunk.
The Associated Press News Service
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