NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Vanderbilt knew point guard Kedren Johnson played a vital role in the team's success. Now the Commodores know they can win with their leading scorer sitting on the bench.
With Johnson sidelined because of foul trouble, Kyle Fuller scored 17 points to lead Vanderbilt to a 66-55 victory over Cornell on Monday night.
The Commodores (5-4) led by 19 in the first half, but the momentum shifted when Johnson picked up his fourth foul with 19:02 remaining. Cornell (4-6) pulled within two less than five minutes later but wouldn't get any closer. Vanderbilt buckled down on defense and went on a 14-2 run to hold on for its third straight win.
"I'm proud of our team. We played without our best player for 22 minutes and were able to find a way to win," Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said. "He has been the guy who has been bailing us out most of the time. He wasn't that guy tonight. Fortunately, other guys stepped up and made the plays."
When Johnson went out, Cornell turned up the full-court pressure and started attacking the basket. Eitan Chermerinski, a 6-foot-8 forward, scored eight of his 10 points during the 14-2 run. His uncontested layup with 14:17 left cut the deficit to 40-38.
Cornell then went back to perimeter shooting, but with Vanderbilt switching to a zone defense the Big Red went cold from the outside. Vanderbilt answered with a 12-2 run, with eight points from Rod Odom and six from Fuller. A rare five-point possession ended the spurt. As Odom sank his third 3-pointer, Fuller was fouled while setting a screen. He made both free throws to push the lead to 52-40 with 9:59 left.
"I was hyped after that play. It made me feel good," Fuller said. "I got Rod a shot and then we got free throws so our team started getting going. That was a big momentum boost for us."
Cornell made one last run, pulling within seven with less than three minutes remaining, but Johnson answered with a three-point play. He drained a running jumper and converted the free throw for his first points since scoring 12 in the first half. He finished with 15 and was 5-of-6 from the field.
Odom added 13 points and Josh Henderson chipped in 10.
Vanderbilt jumped in front for good on Fuller's second 3-pointer. The basket sparked a 26-6 run over the next 11 minutes. The massive flurry included spurts of 11-0 and 10-0. Cornell made just two baskets during a 14-minute stretch.
Cornell missed 14 of its first 18 shots and fell behind 32-13 with 5:11 left in the half. The Big Red were playing for the first time since Dec. 1 after getting two weeks off for exams.
The rust showed as they shot 17.9 percent (5-of-28) from 3-point range. Cornell relied too much on the long ball, especially after closing the gap.
"Something we do well on most nights is make 3s, but tonight we couldn't seem to find the basket," Miles Asafo-Adjei said.
Conversely, Vanderbilt shot 50 percent (10 of 20) from 3-point range. The Commodores used hot perimeter shooting to overcome another awful performance at the foul line. They made 10 of 19 (52.6 percent) against Cornell two days after shooting just 47.4 percent (9 of 19).
Vanderbilt received just two points from its reserves. Dai-Jon Parker accounted for the bench's only basket with a transition layup in the last 30 seconds. Parker was playing his first game of the season after serving an eight-game suspension for a violation of non-academic team rules.
The sophomore shooting guard played a career-high 28 minutes to help fill Johnson's void. His defense helped assure Stallings of his 181st win at Memorial Gymnasium. Stallings, in his 14th season, is tied with Roy Skinner for the most home wins at Vanderbilt.
"I would have loved to have gotten rid of (Cornell) and blown them out and played great from start to finish," Stallings said. "But we'll learn a lot more this way."