Vanderbilt got a career-high 30 points from Jeffery Taylor and an unexpected 15 from Festus Ezeli to survive a late Davidson charge, defeating the Wildcats on their court by an 87-83 margin on Wednesday evening.
The Commodores built an 18-point lead at 65-47 with 7:58 left and appeared to be in complete control of the game. But Davidson's 10-2 run in the next 2:06 got the Wildcats within striking distance.
VU still led 79-67 with 2:44 left after Brad Tinsley's layup, but the Wildcats wouldn't go away. After Clint Mann knocked the ball free from Taylor in the open court, J.P. Kuhlman drained a 3-pointer with 1:27 left to cut the lead to 81-77.
From there, it became a free throw contest. Davidson had been in the bonus with 15:46 left in the half, and Jake Cohen hit 6-of-6 from the charity stripe in the last 31 seconds.
But Tinsley hit 1-of-2 shots with nine seconds to seal the win, and John Jenkins hit three foul shots in the last 28 seconds, too.
Vanderbilt led 40-34 at half, courtesy of 14 points from Taylor and 13 from Jenkins. The Commodores hit 51.7 percent of their shots in the first period.
Ezeli hadn't played all season, and didn't expect to play tonight. Coach Kevin Stallings didn't expect to play him, either, but the 'Dores fell down eight points early in the first half and needed a spark from their big man.
"I thought after the shoot-around today, I didn't think he was going to play," Stallings said. "And he didn't look good in the shoot-around, so I kind of resigned myself to play without him."
"But at the end of warm-ups, our guys came off the floor and Festus came over to me and said, 'Don't hesitate to put me in.' And I looked at him and said, 'Are you sure?' And he said, 'Yeah, I can go.' I don't think he would have said that to me at the end of the shoot-around."
Instead, Ezeli, who hadn't played this season due to a knee injury, played 21 minutes and added six rebounds and two blocks.