Auburn, AL – The Vanderbilt Commodores shot 58.8 percent (10-of-17) from beyond the arch, but never led by more than two points against the No. 5-rated Auburn Tigers. Auburn took the lead midway through the first half on an Anfernee McLemore layup. The Commodores would trail for most of the game, until Vanderbilt guard Jordan Wright made both of his free throws with 0:59 remaining in the game to tie it at 79. Senior Auburn guard and reigning SEC player of the week J’Von McCormick (6-0) made 3-of-4 free throws during the final minute, while 6-6 freshman star Isaac Okoro would make 1-of-2 free throws, giving Auburn a narrow 83-79 victory at Auburn Arena in front of a capacity crowd of 9,121. Auburn outscored Vanderbilt 23-0 on second chance point opportunities.
Okoro led Auburn, with a career high 23 points, on 6-of-9 shooting from the field (1-of-1 from distance) and 10-of-14 from the free-throw line. He added six rebounds, including a defensive rebound with 0:30 remaining that stopped an impressive late run by Vanderbilt. Okoro scored on baseline drives, once from each corner. He also scored on back to the basket spin moves, while drawing a shooting foul. His most impressive shot of the evening came on a drive from the right elbow extended, when he dunked over 6-10 Ejike Obinna. Okoro defended well, holding Vanderbilt’s leading scorer Aaron Nesmith below his top-5 national average of 24 points per game. Austin Wiley added his seventh double-double of the season, with 13 points and 12 rebounds. Wiley scored most of his points from the charity stripe, finishing 9-of-10 on his free throws. He also added three blocked shots.
6-7 Danjel Purifoy may have played his most impressive game for Auburn since his freshman season. Purifoy, who usually spends his time exclusively spotting up for outside shots, finished the first half with only a single made catch and shoot jump shot. Early in the second half, Purifoy drove past his defender for a layup at the rim. After a quick Vanderbilt possession, Purifoy would catch an alley-oop pass from McCormick, which he would lay in on the next Auburn possession. He again drove to the basket on his third straight offensive possession, and was fouled, making both free throws. Later in the second half he again drove past his defender for an impressive dunk, and followed that on the next possession with another drive and layup. He would finish with 12 points. He also made a clutch defensive play during the final minute with a steal that would put Auburn up by four points with 0:22 remaining.
Junior guard Saben Lee led Vanderbilt in scoring with 27 points, despite not starting. Lee displayed ability to score from anywhere, consistently driving to the rim for layups, as well as shooting 3-of-3 from distance and 4-of-4 from the free throw line. He displayed range from well beyond the three-point line and found little no difficulty driving past Auburn defenders McCormick and Samir Doughty. Nesmith added 18 points for Vanderbilt on 4-for-6 shooting form three-point range, including a pair of catch-and-shoot shots with a very quick release. He also showed great athleticism, taking a defensive rebound coast to coast and finishing with a Euro-step around an Auburn defender for the layup. Nesmith had a solid all-around game adding seven rebounds, two steals and three blocks.
Auburn (14-0, 2-0 SEC) will remain home to face Georgia on Saturday, while Vanderbilt (8-6, 0-1 SEC) will return to Nashville to take on Texas A&M.
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