March 9, 2006

Vanderbilt holds off Auburn

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Derrick Byars hit five 3-pointers and finished with 21 points, and Vanderbilt finally ended Auburn's dominance over the Commodores in the Southeastern Conference tournament with a 76-71 victory Thursday night in the opening round.

Auburn had been the only team Vandy has played in the tournament without ever winning. The Commodores (17-11) had lost six tournament games to Auburn, including a 77-73 opening-round loss last year that ended their hopes of an NCAA tournament berth.

It looked like the Tigers (12-16) would extend their streak when they led throughout the first half, including 34-31 at halftime.

The teams swapped the lead seven times within 10 minutes during the second half, and Auburn last led 54-53 on Rasheem Barrett's dunk off Quantez Robertson's alley-oop pass. Vanderbilt took the lead back for good on a jumper by DeMarre Carroll with 7:04 remaining, the first of seven straight points.

Auburn wouldn't go away, and Frank Tolbert hit a 3 from the top of the key to pull the Tigers within 68-66 with 1:35 left. Vandy clinched the victory at the line, hitting 6-of-8 in the final 49 seconds.

Shan Foster added 20 points for Vanderbilt, and Julian Terrell had 13 as the Commodores hit 11-of-22 from 3-point range. They will play No. 18 LSU, the regular season champ, in the quarterfinals Friday.

Tolbert finished with 18 for Auburn. Robertson had 17, Ronny Lemelle 13 and Barrett 11.

Vanderbilt got into the game by shooting away from beyond the arc, and the Commodores hit four of their first five shots in the second half. Alex Gordon's 3 gave them their first lead of the game at 40-39, and Byars' 3 capped a 12-5 run to open the half for a 43-39 lead.

Vandy's slow start came after a highly emotional week - freshman Davis Nwankwo collapsed in practice Monday and had to have his heart shocked with a defibrillator in front of his teammates.

School officials announced before tip-off that he has an enlarged heart and won't play again. He was on the end of the bench, cheering on his teammates.

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