Tinsley comes through late to help drop Tide

(AP/Mark Humphrey)

NASHVILLE—Junior point guard Brad Tinsley drew a foul and hit the go-ahead jumper off of a screen from just inside the three-point arc with 17 seconds left to play, and Vanderbilt stood tall on the defensive end to secure a last minute 81-77 victory over Alabama in a back-and-forth thriller on Thursday night in Memorial Gymnasium.

With playmaker Jeff Taylor watching from the bench after fouling out with 1:30 to play, Tinsley stepped up to put his team ahead on the three-point-play just seconds after a Trevor Releford layup had given the Crimson Tide a one-point lead.

"I'm just really proud of him," head coach Kevin Stallings said of Tinsley after the game. "I'm proud of him for making that play and having the courage to step up and be there when we needed him. And we did need him."

Back in December against Missouri, Tinsley had missed three-pointers at the ends of both regulation and overtime in an 85-82 Vanderbilt loss in Columbia. He fought through Relford's contact on this night to come through with the biggest three points of his season to date.

"Any time you pump fake and go into a guy or get fouled, you try as a player to get the ball up, because you don't know what can happen," said Tinsley, who finished with 15 points and six assists. "It could rattle in, go in, you never know."

The Vanderbilt defense stood tall on the other end to preserve the lead and secure the victory. Alabama called a timeout to set up its final play after Tinsley converted on his free throw. Forward JaMychal Green tried to drive past Festus Ezeli off of a screen and roll, but he was ruled to have stepped out of bounds on the baseline.

Tinsley found John Jenkins on the ensuing inbounds play, and Jenkins hit both of his free throws after being quickly fouled to put the Commodores safely ahead by four with five seconds left. Charvez Davis's final desperation three missed wide for the Tide, who dropped to 7-2 in SEC play.

Jenkins and Tinsley were not the only two Vanderbilt players to hit their free throws in the clutch – Ezeli converted on three of his four attempts with less than two minutes to play and gave the Commodores two separate one-point leads with his trips to the line down the stretch.

Vanderbilt led by as much as 11 with 2:02 left in the first half, but a late flurry from the visitors cut the Commodore lead to three at the break. Sophomore Tony Mitchell scored 16 points in the first half for the Crimson Tide and finished with 22.

Alabama responded well to several second-half Vanderbilt runs but never led by more than two in the final 20 minutes. JaMychal Green scored 19 of his game-high 23 points in the second half, highlighted by a 10-for-11 performance from the free throw line, but his turnover with 6.3 seconds left dealt his team the gritty conference loss it had evaded in close wins over Tennessee and Kentucky in the past month, tightening its claim to the SEC's best record.

"That was a really, really hard fought game by two teams that really, really wanted to win," said Stallings. "I congratulate Alabama for their competitiveness and how well they played."

For a Vanderbilt team that took heat from the media all through late January and early February for its inability to lock up tight games against skilled opponents, Thursday night's win was just as pivotal a moment in the opposite direction.

"I think it was huge for our season to be able to finally close out a close game," Taylor said. "My heart rate was like 140, man, I was dying over there. I wanted to be out there so bad, but I was so glad that they closed it out and came up with some huge plays."

The Commodores host Kentucky on Saturday afternoon in the final game of the team's week-long homestand. The game is scheduled to tip off at 12:00 p.m. CT.



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