NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Vanderbilt Commodores have enough experience that a poor shooting half is no reason for panic.
Being the Southeastern Conference’s best 3-point shooters helps too.
Joe Toye scored 17 of his career-high 18 points in the second half, and Vanderbilt shook off a sluggish start in beating Texas A&M 66-41 Thursday night at the Southeastern Conference Tournament.
With the win, the seventh-seeded Commodores (18-14) snapped a four-game skid in the tournament with their first victory since beating Kentucky in the 2013 quarterfinals. The Commodores knocked down 8 of 14 outside the arc in the second half to beat the Aggies for a third time this season, led by Toye who hit a career-high five 3s on 8 attempts.
“Joe was extraordinary to start that second half,” Vanderbilt coach Bryce Drew said. “I think when he started to make some 3s, it just gave our team a lot of confidence and a lot more guys started to make shots.”
Now Vanderbilt will get a chance at another three-game sweep of No. 17 Florida in the quarterfinals on Friday night.
Riley LaChance added 14 points for Vanderbilt, and Nolan Cressler had 11.
Tenth-seeded Texas A&M (16-15) was held to a season low in points. Tyler Davis led the Aggies with 18 points, and Admon Gilder added 11.
Coach Billy Kennedy said they were “outclassed” by Vanderbilt on the perimeter with the Commodores making almost as many 3s (11) as his Aggies made field goals (17).
“When you can’t score and you’re not deep with your depth defensively, it’s hard to grind out a win,” Kennedy said.
This was the first time these teams have met in the tournament, not that the change of venue mattered as Vanderbilt improved to 8-2 all-time in this series.
Both teams struggled to shoot in the first half. Texas A&M went through a scoring drought that lasted 10:18, turning it over eight times with one shot clock violation. Vanderbilt failed to take advantage, missing 14 of 16 shots and allowing the Aggies to tie it up at 9 with 7:44 left on an alley-oop dunk by Robert Williams.
Vanderbilt took a 23-20 lead into halftime with LaChance finishing the half the same way he started with a long 3.
Whatever Drew said at halftime, the Commodores came out knocking down shots after going 3 of 15 from 3-point range in the first half.
They hit their first three shots to take control. Toye hit a pair of 3s around a layup by Cressler for an 8-0 spurt. By the time LaChance hit his fourth 3, he gave the Commodores their biggest lead at 44-30 with 13:04 to go. They just kept hitting 3s and pushed the lead to as much as 25 on Toye’s final bucket, a layup with 5:33 left.
“Some of them were called for me, some I just found in the offense,” Toye said. “My teammates just kept passing it to me. So I’m just happy my shots were going in today.”
Texas A&M: A year ago, the Aggies lost the tournament championship game to Kentucky in overtime. With only three upperclassmen, the Aggies certainly show lots of promise. But they won’t be returning to the NCAA Tournament, and freshman Williams, who had 10 rebounds to go with nine points, has been mentioned in mock drafts as an NBA first-round draft pick.
“He’s obviously a lottery pick, … when it’s time for him to make that decision,” Kennedy said. “But he can be a special player. He’s just young.”
Vanderbilt: The Commodores came in needing to polish up their NCAA Tournament resume before Selection Sunday. They did just that by winning their second straight and sixth in seven games. Now they get another chance at a Top 25 win.
The Gators are looking forward to a third game with the Commodores after the first two games were decided by two points each. Guard Kasey Hill was hoping Vandy would advance. Why? “So we could beat them,” Hill said.
Texas A&M: Possibly a smaller postseason tournament.
Vanderbilt: Florida in the quarterfinals Friday night.
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