OXFORD, Miss. — It took Vanderbilt nearly four months to earn its first win away from home this season.
Now that the Commodores have finally broken through, they hope it’s the start of something good heading into next week’s Southeastern Conference tournament.
Jeff Roberson scored 19 points and Saben Lee added 17 to push Vanderbilt past Mississippi 82-69 on Saturday night. It’s the first time in 13 tries that the Commodores have won in a road or neutral-floor game.
“Guys have bought in,” said Roberson, who played all 40 minutes. “We just talked about being together on the road. We’re all we’ve got. Guys were celebrating with each other when we were down. Guys were trying to pick each other up and it translated over to the court.
“Guys started hitting shots and things started going our way.”
Vanderbilt (12-19, 6-12) shot nearly 53 percent from the field, including 50 percent from 3-point range. Maxwell Evans scored 14 points and Riley LaChance added 11. Clevon Brown had eight blocked shots.
The Commodores led 45-44 at halftime and the game was close throughout most of the second half until Vanderbilt pulled away in the final minutes. Vanderbilt made 12 3-pointers while Ole Miss managed just two from long range.
The game was a battle of mental toughness as much as anything physical. Both teams have struggled through difficult seasons, but it was Vanderbilt who appeared most interested in the outcome on Saturday.
“They’ve really fought and battled and stayed together,” Vanderbilt coach Bryce Drew said. “We’ve talked about this final stretch, it’s about character. Forget the game, it’s who you are as a person that’s going to come out when adversity hits like this.”
Ole Miss (12-19, 5-13) fell to last place in the conference. The Rebels were led by Bruce Stevens, who scored 17 points on 7 of 9 shooting from the field. Terence Davis scored 15, Breein Tyree had 11 and Markel Crawford added 10.
Ole Miss has lost 10 of its past 11 games. The Rebels had the statistical advantage in several areas on Saturday, but the poor defense on Vanderbilt’s 3-point shooters negated any of those positives.
“We didn’t defend like we needed to,” Ole Miss interim coach Tony Madlock said. “They’re a good 3-point shooting team. That was the game plan – we couldn’t let them get clean looks from three. For them to make 12 in the game is unacceptable.”
Vanderbilt: The breakthrough on the road gives the Commodores a little momentum heading into next week’s SEC Tournament. Vanderbilt struggled on defense for most of the season but was able to get some stops during crucial moments on Saturday.
Ole Miss: The loss continues a tough season for the Rebels, who have played the past couple weeks without coach Andy Kennedy after he resigned in February. Ole Miss – which lost on its senior night – looks like a team that’s ready for the season to be over and then regroup under a new coach.
Vanderbilt plays Georgia in the opening round of the SEC tournament on Wednesday.
Ole Miss plays South Carolina in the opening round of the SEC tournament on Wednesday.