NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Playing for the first time in nine days, Vanderbilt struggled to pull away from Alabama A&M.
When the Commodores finally grabbed some breathing room, Kedren Johnson made sure it stayed that way, scoring 12 of his 19 points in the second half to lead Vanderbilt to a 71-46 victory on Saturday night.
The Commodores (4-4) played for the first time since an overtime victory at Xavier on Dec. 6. Johnson ensured consecutive wins for the first time this season. He accounted for 10 of 13 points early in the second half as a six-point lead quickly ballooned to a 16-point advantage.
"We were just trying to push the lead and not give them any hope," Johnson said. "We just had to extend the lead. After we smelled blood, we just had to go finish them."
Rod Odom added a career-high 17 points and made a career-high four 3-pointers. His second 3 of the night came with 7 seconds before halftime and gave Vanderbilt a 31-22 lead at the break.
The momentum spilled over into the second half, when the Commodores shot 63.6 percent (14 of 22). After an Alabama A&M 3-pointer cut the lead to six, Vanderbilt used a 16-6 run to pull away. Johnson began to attack the basket. He interspersed a jumper in among five free throws. His 3-pointer with 13:19 left gave the Commodores a commanding 47-31 lead. Center Josh Henderson also provided a spark, scoring 11 of his career-high 13 points in the second half.
Alabama A&M (2-6) sputtered offensively, especially after the break. The Bulldogs made just six shots in the second half and shot 32.6 percent (15 of 46) for the game. The 46 points were the fewest allowed by Vanderbilt this season.
"I thought our defense was pretty solid both halves other than the times we got hurt in transition and got hurt on boards," Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said. "I guess I want it to be perfect, and it is not. That is my problem. I probably should be more tolerant at the end of finals. But based on the way we performed today in the shoot-around, I thought we might score 100. We were crisp, sharp, ready, but some of that didn't show up to the floor tonight."
Stallings described his team's play as scattered.
Besides lapses on defense and failure to pass the ball inside at times, Stallings also noted poor free-throw shooting. The Commodores shot a season-low 47.4 percent (9 for 19) from the line. But they stepped five feet back to the 3-point line and made a season-best 47.6 percent (10 of 21).
"That doesn't make any sense," Stallings said.
Alabama A&M committed turnovers on its first three possessions. The Bulldogs didn't score until a 3-pointer by Brandon Ellis more than 4 minutes in.
But they stuck around thanks to poor rebounding by Vanderbilt, which entered as the worst rebounding team in the Southeastern Conference. Vanderbilt won the rebounding battle 38-29, but early, second-chance opportunities aided Alabama A&M.
Nicholas West cut the deficit to 18-15 with 6:48 before halftime, but that is as close as Alabama A&M got. The Bulldogs made just two baskets the rest of the half, and Odom was left open to the left of the key for a big 3-pointer before halftime.
"I was just trying to worry about the next shot and let it fly," Odom said. "That got me going for the rest of the game. I definitely felt good. I was just relaxed."
Brandon Ellis and Demarquelle Tabb each scored 10 points for the Bulldogs, who lost their fourth straight and sixth of seven.
Vanderbilt added some depth with the return of A.J. Astroth. The freshman guard missed five consecutive games due to hamstring and ankle injuries. He scored his first career points late in the game.
The Commodores will also get sophomore Dai-Jon Parker back on Monday against Cornell. The shooting guard was suspended indefinitely before the season began due to a violation of non-academic team rules.