NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Vanderbilt Commodores have the nation's top 3-point shooter and the Southeastern Conference's top two scorers in league play. All that offensive firepower disappeared in the final four minutes with a chance to pull off a big upset.
The Commodores missed their final nine shots after Brad Tinsley's jumper with 4:08 left gave them a 63-61 lead, and they wound up losing 69-63 to top-ranked Kentucky on Saturday night. They also went scoreless for a five-minute stretch of the first half.
"I thought for the most part we got pretty good shots in the last four minutes," Tinsley said. "They made some great defensive plays, some blocks here and there, being in the right place. For the most part we executed what coach (Kevin Stallings) told us to do, and they just made some plays."
Vanderbilt (17-8, 6-4) had a sellout crowd with students filling their section of Memorial Gym more than two hours before tipoff. The Commodores had the kind of energy that had helped this program beat four straight No. 1 teams on this court in a streak that dated to Dec. 5, 1987. Then they fell behind by as much as 14 in the first half and trailed 36-23 at halftime.
"I feel like we let our fans down tonight," Vanderbilt senior Jeffery Taylor said.
"Obviously, it was a great opportunity for us to come out and get a signature win. It is the last time I get to play Kentucky at home. And losing the game, I think we're all competitors here and I feel like we felt like we had this game, we were up four points with eight minutes left in the second half, so it's disappointing on a lot of fronts. "
Vanderbilt missed the chance to pull into a tie with Florida for second behind the Wildcats in the SEC regular-season chase. Instead, Kentucky (25-1, 11-0) has a three-game lead with five remaining.
"I don't think we're going to lose that many games," Kentucky freshman Anthony Davis said.
Doron Lamb hit a 3-pointer with 3:18 left and put Kentucky ahead to stay as the Wildcats scored the final eight points. Lamb finished with 16 points, Davis added 15 points and seven blocks, Terrence Jones scored 14 and Marquis Teague had 13.
"It was a pretty good college game if you didn't care who won," Stallings said. "I thought our guys really battled in the second half. We just kind of come out of the gate, gassed out at the beginning, I think. We fought hard. We rebounded hard. And, like I said, they just made a couple more plays than we did. We're very disappointed."
Vanderbilt's top scorers in league play are Taylor with 18.2 points per game and John Jenkins with 17.8, but neither matched their average. Jenkins hit three 3s, just off his nation's best average of 3.9 per game, and had 15 points. Taylor joined Tinsley and Festus Ezeli, adding 13 points each.
Kentucky had held its previous five opponents to an average of 49.6 points with the nation's stingiest field goal percentage defense at 35.8 percent. Vanderbilt came in with the SEC's best percentage from beyond the arc, and Kentucky held the Commodores to just 8 of 21 from 3-point range (38.1 percent) — well below their 42.1 percent average.
Vanderbilt opened the second half by hitting six of its first seven shots from long range and 10 of its first 14 overall from the floor in rallying back.
Taylor, held to only two points in the first half, scored 11 as Vanderbilt chipped away at the lead, and his 3-pointer with 11:58 tied it up at 48. The Commodores got a turnover under the Kentucky basket, and Goulbourne passed to Tinsley for a dunk he celebrated with a scream, giving Vandy a 53-51 lead that was its first since 9-8.
Ezeli added a dunk for Vanderbilt's biggest lead.
Davis answered with a jumper and a dunk he finished with a free throw for a three-point play. Tinsley hit a 3-pointer before his bucket with 4:08 to go. Lamb then put Kentucky ahead to stay with his 3 from the left corner in front of the Wildcats' bench after the Commodores collapsed on Darius Miller in the paint.
"I was wide open in the corner, and I knocked it down," Lamb said.
Davis swatted his seventh shot with 48 seconds left, and Taylor's 3-point attempt wound up bouncing off the back of Ezeli's head.
"We missed some bunnies," Stallings said. "They pressed us and we break the press and we've got a dunk and we drop the ball, foul. We had some opportunities. We just didn't take advantage of them."