BLOOMINGTON, Ind.-- Facing the prospect of playing in his last collegiate game, senior Corey Smith ignited for a career-high 25 points Wednesday to lead Vanderbilt to a 67-60 win over Indiana in the first round of the National Invitational Tournament. The Commodores (19-13) advanced to the second round, while the Hoosiers' (15-14) season came to an inglorious end.
It was a gutsy and significant road win for Vanderbilt, which never trailed in the game and never lost the lead after going up 7-5 in the early going. Its win snapped a ten-game home winning string for Indiana, which had gone a perfect 8-0 at Assembly Hall vs. Big Ten competition.
After a disappointing one-and-done showing six days earlier in the SEC Tournament which killed any chance of playing in the NCAA Tournament, the Commodores returned to the court Wednesday determined and unintimidated. Forty minutes later, they had turned the tables on the tradition-rich Hoosiers, and as a result survived to play another game in the month of March.
It a particularly sweet moment for Coach Kevin Stallings, who played and coached as an assistant at cross-state rival Purdue.
"This is not an easy place to get victories, and that's what makes them special," Stallings said. "We fought from start to finish. We got a little rattled when they made their run, but we were able to hang on."
The win was Vanderbilt's first ever at historic Assembly Hall. The Commodores defeated Indiana last year in Nashville, but were 0-5 all-time in previous trips to Bloomington.
For most of the game the Commodores were firmly in command against an atypically sluggish Indiana team. After leading by as much as 12 in the second half, Vandy watched its lead shrink to four points at 67-63 with two minutes left, but was able to withstand the rally and ice the unlikely road win by connecting on 10 of 12 free throws down the stretch.
DeMarre Carroll replaced Jason Holwerda in the starting lineup. Stallings, who has relied all season on a nine- and ten-man rotation, gave the majority of the minutes in this one to six players: Carroll, Holwerda, Smith, Shan Foster, Mario Moore and Julian Terrell.
Corey Smith's 3-pointer on Vandy's first field goal attempt put the Commodores up 3-0, an early omen that it might be Smith's and the Commodores' night. Behind 48.1% first-half shooting, the Commodores twice built nine-point leads en route to a 31-26 halftime advantage. Hoosier star Bracey Wright was held to 5 points in the first stanza.
The Hoosiers narrowed the score to 33-30, before Vandy ripped off seven straight points for a 40-30 lead. Before a national TV audience and a half-full Assembly Hall, the Commodore offense began slicing through the Indiana defense with surprising precision for easy baskets. Vandy led 47-35 with 13 minutes left, before the Hoosiers began to make their late run.
"We played most of the night with energy, effort and purpose," Stallings said. "I thought our defense was the difference in the game."
The star was Smith, who finished the game 8-of-14 from the floor, with 5 rebounds and 3 assists. Shan Foster added 11 points. The unselfish Commodores finished with 16 assists on 24 made baskets.
Rumors have swirled in the last week regarding the status of Indiana coach Mike Davis (right, AP photo by Tom Strickland), and Wednesday's performance can't have helped his case to retain his job. The Hoosiers shot just 37.5% in losing to an SEC team that had come in just 2-9 away from its home gym. Wright led Indiana with a quiet 17 points, but was never much of a factor.
At press time the Commodores were unsure of the site and date of their next game, but the opponent should come from among Kent, Wichita State and Western Kentucky.
"To get a win in Indiana is great," said Smith. "Hopefully we can make it all the way to New York."