Johnson leads Vanderbilt past Nicholls State 80-65

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Struggling to get into a rhythm offensively, Vanderbilt's Kyle Fuller faked a shot, stepped to the side of the defender and sunk a jumper.

The bucket couldn't have come at a better time — with 1 second left in the first half for a six-point lead.

Sparked by Fuller, Vanderbilt made its first eight shots of the second half to roll to an 80-65 victory over Nicholls State on Saturday in the season opener for both teams.

While Kedren Johnson led all scorers with a career-high 25 points, Fuller scored 13 of his personal-best 15 after the break for the Commodores.

"I thought it was a good momentum play for us," coach Kevin Stallings said. "I thought that carried over in the second half — really for everyone. Sometimes that can be a real momentum play."

Fuller opened the second half with a 3-pointer at the top of the key and his teammates followed his lead. Starting with Fuller's jumper to end the first half, the Commodores made nine straight shots, including five 3-pointers. Kevin Bright made two straight, with his second giving Vanderbilt a commanding 49-31 lead with 15:35 left.

It ended a 36-14 run over a 13-minute span that turned a four-point deficit into a blowout. In the second half, the Commodores shot 66.7 percent (18 of 27) and made eight of 11 3-pointers.

"It was a starting point for me," said Fuller, who missed his opening four shots. "I kept missing so it was a confidence booster to get my game going. I knew I was helping the team on defense but I know now I can help the team on offense."

Without much film on Nicholls State, which didn't play an exhibition game, the Commodores were caught off guard by Colonels senior Fred Hunter.

The 6-foot-5, 240-pounder, who missed all of last season with a knee injury, threw his weight around early. He finished with 21 points and 10 rebounds. Hunter scored the team's first 11 points to take a 17-13 lead with 8:51 left in the first half.

"He is a really good player. I had no idea he was that good," Stallings said. "When he was able to get it with angles, he was a load. He is a tough kid. I liked his game."

Johnson led the Vanderbilt charge back. He sunk two 3-pointers and Sheldon Jeter drained another to spark a 15-5 run that ended the half. The Commodores went into the break ahead 28-22.

Johnson made 8 of 14 shots and scored 15 points after halftime. He also finished with six assists and six rebounds.

"He is deceptively quick and he lulls you to sleep," Nicholls State coach J.P. Piper said. "He doesn't look like he is playing full speed but he is going by you and then he is strong at the rim. We didn't think he'd shoot it that well. If he is making shots like that, boy he is a handful."

The sophomore point guard is the team's top returning scorer after averaging 3.1 points last year. The Commodores lost last year's top six scorers to graduation or the NBA Draft. They are without a senior after winning 25 games and the Southeastern Conference tournament championship en route to reaching the NCAA Tournament for the third straight year for the first time in school history.

Against Nicholls State, Vanderbilt players set 27 career-highs. That included a career-high 15 points from Bright, one of two freshmen to play.

All eight players scored for Vanderbilt, which was without two guards. Freshman A.J. Astroth sat with a sprained ankle and sophomore Dai-Jon Parker is serving an indefinite suspension for a violation of non-academic team rules.

Sam McBeath added 15 points and T.J. Carpenter had 11 for Nicholls State, which finished eighth in the Southland Conference last year.

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