OXFORD, Miss. (WTVA/Ole Miss Men's Basketball traded blows with Vanderbilt for the better part of 30 minutes in a closely-contested game on Saturday night, but the Commodores pulled away in the final eight minutes for an 82-69 defeat of the Rebels to close the regular season.
Bruce Stevens led the Rebels (12-19, 5-13 SEC) with 17 points and Terence Davis poured in 15 of his own. Vanderbilt's Jeff Roberson led all scorers with 19 points.
A back-and-forth, offensive-focused first half saw the Commodores (12-19, 6-12 SEC) take a 45-44 lead in the locker room. Fifteen of Stevens' 17 points came on 6 of 7 shooting in the first 20 minutes. Ole Miss hit the offensive glass hard to start the game, snaring four offensive rebounds in the first eight minutes of the game and helping it build a 23-19 lead.
The Rebels' largest lead of the night came when it led 29-22 with just under seven minutes to go in the first half. Ole Miss was able to string together five or six stops in a row in the opening half, something that didn't happen as frequently in the second half.
"We were able to put together stops and got up seven," acting head coach Tony Madlock said. "We just let go of the rope a little bit. They're a good three-point shooting team. We did not want to give them clean looks."
Vanderbilt settled in, and a 16-4 run helped give it a lead going into the locker room.
The difference the second half was undoubtedly Vanderbilt's ability to make perimeter jump shots. The Commodores went 5 of 8 from deep in the second half and shot 51.7 percent from the field as it pulled away from the Rebels over the course of the final eight minutes of the game. A Joe Toye three ball with nine minutes left stretched Vanderbilt's lead to 64-58 and prompted Madlock to call a timeout.
"I think it has something to do with decision making down the stretch," Davis said of the team running out of gas down the stretch. "It leads to defensive errors that we feel like we have to make up for on offense."
The Commodores took full control of the game from that point on and soon extended to double digits. Ole Miss held an advantage on the glass for a good portion of the game, but Vanderbilt won the battle of the boards late and ended the game with a 33-32 advantage in that department.
"We didn't guard well enough," Madlock said. "When you are not making shots, it affects our defense and that has kind of been the story all year for us."
The Rebels will face South Carolina on Wednesday night in the first round of the SEC Tournament in St. Louis. It is scheduled for 30 minutes following the conclusion of the Georgia-Vanderbilt game, which is slated to begin at 6 p.m. CT. Both games will be broadcast on SEC Network.
"Come Wednesday, we have a new season," Davis said. "We have to move forward and not worry about the past. I know I will be ready for the tournament, and I'll get my troops ready with me. We have to get up and play. Anything can happen."