Stars come alive in Vandy's road rally

ATHENS, Ga. -- At halftime of Vanderbilt’s 64-56 victory at Georgia on Wednesday night, Commodores guard John Jenkins had zero points and was 0-for-5 from the field.

At least Jenkins, the SEC’s leading scorer at 19.8 points per game, was only half as bad as teammate Jeffery Taylor, who also was shut out in the first half on 0-for-10 shooting.

Making matters worse, Commodores forward Festus Ezeli scored only four points on 1-for-8 shooting in the first 20 minutes.

Together, Vanderbilt’s top three scorers combined for four points on 1-for-23 shooting in the first half against the Bulldogs.

Somehow, the Commodores trailed only 27-21 at the half.

“One of my assistants said, ‘Well, it couldn’t have been any worse,’” Vandy coach Kevin Stallings said. “I told him, ‘Yeah, Festus could have missed the one shot he made.’”

Things didn’t get much better for the Commodores at the start of the second half. Jenkins missed his first three shots of the half, and the Bulldogs took a 40-26 lead on reserve Sherrard Brantley’s 3-pointer with 14:33 to go.

Then Jenkins finally warmed up.

The sophomore made his first basket on a 3-pointer with 13:15 to play.

“I just got an open look,” Jenkins said. “They were hard to come by in this game. I knew I had to knock it down because I might not get another one.”

Jenkins, who scored a career-high 32 points in Vanderbilt’s 81-77 win over Kentucky on Saturday, was only getting started. He added four more 3-pointers in the final 10 minutes and scored 18 of his team’s final 24 points. All 21 of his points came in the final 14 minutes.

“My teammates kept telling me, ‘It’s going in. It’s going in,’” Jenkins said. “It’s positive thinking.”

Said Georgia point guard Dustin Ware: “We knew at some point he was going to come in and get hot. He’s a great shooter. You’re never going to shut him down completely.”

Stallings said Jenkins’ hot shooting fueled his team’s intensity on defense. Georgia didn’t make a field goal in the final 9 minutes, 47 seconds, and was outscored 24-3 to end the game.

“We went from our zone to man and we were just physical and played tough and got them to miss,” Stallings said.

With the Commodores leading 58-56 in the final two minutes, UGA had a chance to tie the score or take the lead on two consecutive trips. But forward Trey Thompkins turned the ball over and then Travis Leslie missed a running bank shot.

Georgia’s third close SEC loss at home -- the Bulldogs lost to Tennessee 59-57 on a last-second putback on Jan. 18 and 104-91 in double overtime to Florida on Jan. 25 -- was another blow to its fading NCAA at-large hopes.

With an RPI rating hovering close to the top 40 going into Wednesday night’s game, Georgia desperately needed another signature victory. The Bulldogs are now 2-8 against RPI top-50 foes, beating only Kentucky and UAB. A victory over the Commodores, who were No. 16 in the RPI, would have bolstered their NCAA hopes.

Instead, Georgia heads into the final five games of the regular season maybe needing to win at Tennessee on Saturday or at Florida on Feb. 24 to improve its at-large stock.

Meanwhile, Vanderbilt won only its second SEC road game, after also defeating Mississippi State 81-74 in Starkville on Jan. 27.

“It’s a big-time confidence builder because everybody knows we’ve struggled on the road a little bit,” Jenkins said.