ATLANTA, GA — It was a case of too much height, too much firepower and too much Shan Foster for the Auburn Tigers Thursday afternoon in the first round of the Southeastern Conference Tournament at the Georgia Dome. The Tigers, with no starter taller than 6-7, had no answers for Vanderbilt’s front line size and they certainly couldn’t match Vandy shot-for-shot, particularly when Foster caught fire early on.
Vandy’s 93-82 win sends the Commodores (26-6) into the quarter-finals where they will face Arkansas (20-10) at 3:15. Auburn’s season ends at 14-16.
Thanks to its ability to go both inside and outside, Vanderbilt shot a sizzling 67.3 percent (33-49) from the field and an even 50 percent (9-18) from the three-point line. Even though Auburn shot a very respectable 47.5 percent from the field (29-61) and 44 percent (12-27) from the three-point stripe, it wasn’t enough to keep up with Vanderbilt.
A.J. Ogilvy, Vanderbilt’s 6-11 freshman center, and senior power forward Ross Neltner (6-9) combined for 37 points and seven rebounds for the inside punch that devastated Auburn, which started 6-6 Quan Prowell in the post. Prowell got into foul trouble early and spent much of the game on the bench. He finished with eight points and five fouls in only 11 minutes of playing time.
Ogilvy went 12-13 from the field, finishing with a game high 27 points. Neltner only managed a couple of layups but he used his considerable bulk to get position and get fouled. He finished 6-7 from the foul line and 10 points.
“As soon as we came out I had a couple of good looks and I was in pretty good position,” said Ogilvy, a freshman from Australia. “Prowell got into foul trouble and they had some issues trying to get good players in there and my teammates did a good job of getting the ball to me in easy scoring position so that was the biggest asset.”
When Ogilvy and Foster weren’t making it look easy on the inside, Foster, the Southeastern Conference Player of the Year, was lighting it up early and often from long distance. Foster finished with 26 points, hitting six of his nine three-pointers.
Foster and Ogilvy were the one-two punch that Auburn had no answers for in the first half, but that was all part of the game plan. Vanderbilt’s early strategy was to work the ball into Ogilvy, whose quick moves to the hoop got three fouls on Prowell. Foul number three, the one that sent Prowell to the bench for the rest of the half, came with 10:49 to go in the half. When Auburn tried to collapse around Ogilvy, that left the perimeter for Foster, Jermaine Beal and Alex Gordon.
“I thought our team did a great job of moving the ball and being patient with it and getting it inside,” said Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings. “We kind of made an emphasis on not taking, at least with some guys, quick threes early in the shot clock and being more patient and trying to get the ball into A.J. as much as we could. I thought our guys bought into the game plan and executed it very well. So that was really the difference in the game.”
Foster hit his first three-pointer with 17:05 remaining in the first half, a high arching bomb from about 25 feet that barely made the net move when it dropped in. When he hit that first one, Foster felt like he might be in for a good day.
“I haven’t got many open shots this year but we knew they were going to come out and play a lot of different zones so if we got the ball moving and moved ourselves a little bit, then we would get open shots as a team,” said Foster, a 6-6 senior from New Orleans and Vanderbilt’s all-time leading scorer. “My teammates did a great job of finding me when I was open and I was able to knock down a few shots.”
It was a Foster three-pointer with 7:01 left in the half that allowed Vandy to take charge and build a 47-36 halftime lead. Auburn made a game of it early on in the second half with Prowell back in the lineup, closing to 59-53 with 12:06 left on a Frank Tolbert jumper. When Prowell picked up his fifth foul with 11:43 left in the game, that was pretty much the end of the road for the Tigers.
It was 60-53 when Prowell fouled out and that was as close as it got.
“When Quan goes out, our whole front line is gone,” said Auburn coach Jeff Lebo, who lost his other player with size and inside ability back in December when Korvotney Barber broke his foot. “We were playing 6-6 and no subs atthat point. We were fatigued and the way we have to pat — we did what we needed to do offensively but the fatigue and not being able to manufacture anything. We can’t get those. Whether it’s an offensive stick-back, whether it’s a post-up move.”
Auburn was led by Rasheem Barrett with 20 points and Frank Tolbert with 17.