NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Vanderbilt Commodores have had so many games slip away in the Southeastern Conference this season that maybe it was just time they finally got a lucky bounce.
Kevin Bright hit a pull-up jumper with 0.8 seconds left that bounced off the rim and then the backboard before falling through, and Vanderbilt rallied from a 17-point deficit to edge Georgia 63-62 Wednesday night for the Commodores’ second straight win.
The freshman didn’t expect the ball to come to him. When it did, he dribbled to the baseline and just tried to get a shot off.
“When the ball first hit the rim, I thought it was going to bounce off,” Bright said. “Luckily, it bounced back in.”
Vanderbilt has had one SEC loss this season in overtime, two by four points and a couple by a single point.
“It feels good to finally be on the other side of that win,” guard Kedren Johnson said.
Bright’s shot went in with 0.6 seconds left in the game. Officials reviewed the play and pushed the clock to 0.8. The extra two-tenths of a second didn’t matter.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope scored 20 points and had 14 rebounds for Georgia (13-15, 7-8). His desperate fling at the bucket bounced harmlessly off the left side of the backboard as the buzzer sounded.
The Commodores (12-15, 6-9) now have won three of their last four, trying to climb up from the league’s bottom four teams and avoid playing on the opening night of the SEC tournament in two weeks.
Johnson scored 17 points. Reserve Sheldon Jeter matched his career high with 14 points, all in the second half, and Bright finished with 11 as Vanderbilt extended its winning streak to eight straight over Georgia. Vandy hit 17 of 18 at the free throw line and had a season-low four turnovers.
“In a lot of ways, we were outplayed,” Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said. “But we became the aggressor in the second half and were able to get it done.”
Charles Mann hit two free throws for Georgia’s last lead at 62-61 with 42.3 seconds left. Bright missed a 3-pointer, but Caldwell-Pope turned the ball over on the right sideline as he tried to bring the ball up with 19.2 seconds remaining.
Georgia coach Mark Fox called it a difficult loss.
“Unfortunately, our defense wasn’t as good in the second half, but still we were in position to win the game,” Fox said. “We had a terrible break when Kentavious dribbled the ball off his foot and go out of bounds because he knew he was going to be fouled. That was a terrible break for him.”
Bright got the ball and dribbled up the baseline before pulling up for the jumper.
“Kevin got his guy off balance and really made a nice shot,” Stallings said. “He’s got a little bit of a knack to make big shots and he certainly made a big one there.”
The Bulldogs haven’t won in Memorial Gym since squeaking out a win in 2006, and they couldn’t hold on to a 34-22 halftime lead when Caldwell-Pope went cold for most of the second half. He had 10 points and 11 rebounds by the 5:39 mark of the first half but didn’t hit another field goal until his 3-pointer with 1:56 left when Vandy already had the lead.
This marked just the second comeback victory this season for Vanderbilt. The Commodores rallied from six down to beat Xavier in overtime Dec. 6. This time, they had to shake off a cold start in which they missed their first nine shots and finished the first half shooting 25 percent (6 of 24).
In the second half, the Commodores returned the favor by holding Georgia to 7-of-23 shooting (30.4 percent) despite being outshot and outrebounded (36-28) for the game.
“I don’t think we handled the lead very well,” Fox said. “We finished the first half poorly because we gave them five quick points at the end of the half. Then we sent them to the free throw line on the first couple trips in the second half. We have to be more in tune with a lead.”
Georgia led 34-22 at halftime after Johnson scored the final five points of the first half, and Vanderbilt hit its first six free throw attempts after halftime to trim the Bulldogs’ lead to single digits.
Bright hit a 3 with 10:40 left that started a 16-0 run for Vanderbilt. The Commodores rebounded a missed 3 by Vincent Williams only to see officials wipe out Jeter’s layup by calling a charge that had fans booing repeatedly through the ensuing timeout. That riled up not only the fans but the Commodores as well.
Jeter came back down and hit a 3-pointer and followed that with a three-point play, then a dunk to tie upGeorgia at 47. Johnson hit a 3 that gave Vanderbilt its first lead of the game at 50-47 with 6:25 to go. Shelby Moats capped the run with a backdoor layup with 5:48 left for a 52-47 lead.