Games like the SEC Championship is the reason why March is one of the most anticipated months of the year for college basketball fans.
Jeffrey Taylor didn’t have the best shooting game, but still led Vanderbilt with 18 points, as the Commodores beat top-ranked Kentucky 71-64, capturing its first SEC title since 1951.
John Jenkins and Festus Ezeli both had 17 points, as Vanderbilt (24-10) snapped the Wildcats (32-2) 24 game winning streak, and handed them their first SEC loss this season.
The Commodores’ defense was intense, and took Kentucky away from what makes them so tough to beat: running the court and using their size to beat you down.
The Wildcats didn’t get a field goal for the final 8:04, and shot 35.9 percent from the field (23-of-64).
“We just played really solid defense all game,” said Taylor. “The coaches came up with a great defensive game plan for us, and I think for the most part we did a really good job of following that.”
“Also you have to be a little bit lucky,” Taylor said. “I think they missed some open looks, but I think we did a really good job of contesting shots and really making it tough for them.”
Darius Miller led Kentucky with 16 points, while Terrence Jones and SEC Player of the Year Anthony Davis had 12.
“For me, I definitely hate the feeling of losing,” Davis said. “To lose here, especially in a championship when we were this close to winning it all, it just hurts.”
“So I hope we can take this loss, learn from it, and have this as motivation going into the tournament.”
The Commodores walked into New Orleans Arena on Sunday and were in hostile territory, as the majority of the crowd were decked in Wildcat gear, and were VERY loud.
But the small contingent from Nashville cheered their team on from beginning to end, and as it became evident that Vandy was going to win, they out-roared their counterparts.
This was the third meeting between the teams, with the first two being tight, so you expected this one to play the same, and it did.
Vanderbilt came out and played the game they wanted to play and forced Kentucky into said game and out of theirs.
The Commodores jumped out to a 26-18 lead in the first half, but allowed Kentucky to tie it up at 37 at halftime.
The Wildcats looked determined to take the game midway through the second half, as they took a 54-49 lead after Jones threw down two strong dunks, which ignited the crowd.
Then things got chilly for the Wildcats offense, as they missed 14 straight shots from there on out.
“Now what happened was we missed every single shot down the stretch,” said Kentucky head coach John Calipari.
“That’s what we hadn’t done all year. When I say we missed every shot, we missed every shot.”
Despite the loss, Kentucky earned the No.1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament, and is also the No.1 seed in the South Region. They will meet the winner of Mississippi Valley State and Western Kentucky, who will do battle in Dayton, Ohio, next week in the First Four.
Vanderbilt is the No. 5 seed in the East Region, and will take on No. 12 seeded Harvard on Thursday in Albuquerque, NM.