January 20, 2011 7:53:00 AM
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Vanderbilt University men''s basketball team is aching and hurting. The Commodores also are learning how to quit letting games get away from them at the end.
John Jenkins scored 20 points to lead five players in double figures in an 84-74 victory against the University of Mississippi on Wednesday night to send the Rebels to their worst start in Southeastern Conference play since 2000.
Four of the five starters played at least 30 minutes with Andre Walker out another game with a sprained ankle and Steve Tchiengang limited with his own sore ankle. Then Festus Ezeli aggravated his left knee blocking a shot early in a game the Commodores (13-4, 2-2) needed on their home court after blowing big leads in dropping their first two SEC road games.
"We just have to work on really, really holding onto leads a lot," Vanderbilt junior Jeff Taylor said. "We seem to give up leads a lot."
They did again against the Rebels, leading by as much as nine in the first half and by 10 in the second only to see Ole Miss rally back.
"All week in practice we were saying we''ve got to have leaders and dig in and fight through some things," Jenkins said. "We had to fight through."
Mississippi (12-7, 0-4) now is off to its worst league start since dropping its first five SEC games in 2000.
"You have to just keep playing, keep working hard, and eventually it''s going to come," Ole Miss forward Steadman Short said.
Ezeli had 16 points after going 10 of 12 at the free-throw line for Vanderbilt. Taylor had 15 points, and Lance Goulbourne had 14 and tied the team record with 16 rebounds for Vanderbilt. Dawid Przybyszewski last had 16 rebounds Nov. 19, 2004. Brad Tinsley added 14 points.
All the injuries meant four of Vanderbilt''s starters played at least 30 minutes with Jenkins going 39.
"It took a lot of courage for our team to win this game, and I really, really am proud of them for it," Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said.
Chris Warren and Dundrecous Nelson had 17 apiece for Ole Miss, Zach Graham 14 and Terrance Henry 11.
In this matchup of two of the SEC''s top three scoring offenses, the Rebels can blame some cold shooting at the worst times for this latest loss. As Vanderbilt opened the second half with a 12-3 run, the Rebels missed their first five shots before Warren hit a 3 to end the drought.
Ole Miss last led 66-65 thanks to a 14-3 run capped by eight straight points from Nelson. He hit a pair of free throws, then back-to-back 3s to give the Rebels their last lead with 6:43 left. Then the Rebels went cold again. Graham hit a bucket with 4:16 left, and that was their only points until Nelson''s layup with 2:50 to go.
"It''s the best home court in our league, and the students help as well," Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said. "We hung around and hung around. ... But the one guy we can''t leave open is John Jenkins. We left him open, and he made us pay. That''s what good players do."
Jenkins put the Commodores back up for good with his fourth 3-pointer with 5:35 remaining. Taylor scored on a layup that was Vanderbilt''s last field goal of the game with 5:03 left. He also hit the free throw after being fouled as Vanderbilt polished off the win by going 14-of-17 at the free-throw line down the stretch.
The Commodores outshot Ole Miss all over the court, hitting 8 of 16 from beyond the arc and had a big edge at the foul line (28 of 34 compared to 14 of 16). Vanderbilt also outrebounded Ole Miss 41-25.
Ole Miss led 42-39 at halftime after surviving a cold shooting start when the Rebels hit just three of their first 11 shots, and Warren was just 2 of 8 from the floor in the first half. Vanderbilt led by as much as nine early, before the Rebels finally warmed up.
The Rebels also scored 17 points off Vanderbilt''s turnovers in the first half but managed just five more such points in the second half.