By TERESA M. WALKER
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Vanderbilt Commodores finally found a way to finish off a big lead with a win, and coach Kevin Stallings hopes this can be a stepping stone.
Rod Odom scored 15 points, and Vanderbilt beat Arkansas 67-49 Saturday to snap a four-game losing skid. The Commodores, who had lost seven of their last nine, lost one in overtime, two others by a single point, another by two and another by four after blowing an 11-point lead with 7 minutes left.
Stallings said he was certainly fired up for his young Commodores after being kicked in the "you know whats" several times in the past few weeks.
"At some point, human nature or common sense says their confidence is going to waver if they don’t win," Stallings said. "They’re going to lose faith, lose hope, lose confidence, lose trust, lose something, so you need something good to happen. They haven’t shown any signs of that."
The Commodores also got a bit of payback for one of their ugliest losses this season.
Vanderbilt (9-13, 3-7 Southeastern Conference) managed only 11 points by halftime and matched a season-low in points while losing 56-33 to Arkansas on Jan. 12 in Fayetteville. This time, the Commodores held Arkansas to a season low in scoring. They also built their biggest halftime lead in SEC play at 35-24 and finally protected a lead by finishing off the win.
"How they performed when we went down to Arkansas gave us motivation to play harder and try to take it to them like they took it to us," Odom said.
Sheldon Jeter added 13 points and Josh Henderson had 11 for a team that hadn’t won since Jan. 23 against Auburn.
"We’ve had some close losses that kind of hurt us, but at the same time that was just making us stronger and hungrier to get a win," Henderson said. "So we definitely needed this and happy we finally got it."
Arkansas (14-9, 5-5) failed to follow up its 80-69 upset of No. 2 Florida on Tuesday night, and the Razorbacks still remain winless this season in true road games. They’ve lost all six, including their first four league games.
Coach Mike Anderson took the blame for not getting his Razorbacks ready after the big win over Florida.
"Sometimes you play a team such as Florida and people are patting you on the back and you start believing it and I think we got caught up in that as a young team," Anderson said.
Mardracus Wade led Arkansas with 13 points. Marshawn Powell played only three minutes of the first half after picking up two quick fouls, and the junior forward who had been averaging 15.1 points a game finished with five points before fouling out with 3:20 to go.
"Powell going out kind of threw us out of rhythm," Anderson said. "That’s when you have guys step up and make plays for us."
That didn’t happen. This was the Razorbacks’ worst shooting game this season, too, hitting just 30.8 percent (16 of 52). They managed only one field goal after Rashad Madden’s layup with 5:52 left, and Kikko Haydar’s 3 came way too late with 31.8 seconds left.
Vanderbilt hit 50 percent (21 of 42) in building its lead to as much as 21 in the final minute. The Commodores also outrebounded Arkansas (35-30).
The Razorbacks led only briefly and early. When Odom hit Vandy’s first field goal at the 13:47 mark on a jumper off his own miss, that gave the Commodores their first lead at 7-6. Hunter Mickelson hit two free throws to put Arkansas back up before Henderson scored back-to-back buckets. Haydar’s 3 tied it up at 11, and that was the closest the Razorbacks would get the rest of the way.
Vandy scored the next 10 as Jeter put the Commodores ahead to stay with consecutive 3s and a pair of free throws. This time, it was the Razorbacks’ turn to struggle shooting. They missed eight straight shots early in the half and went more than five minutes between field goals before Michael Qualls finally connected on a layup with 6:28 remaining.
Kyle Fuller pushed Vandy’s lead to as much as 15 twice late in the first half.
The Razorbacks opened the second half hitting six of their first eight shots. Madden’s two free throws pulled Arkansas within 43-38 with 11:45 left, and that was as close as the Razorbacks could get.
The Commodores answered with a 9-0 run. The last was a 3-pointer by Kedren Johnson, Vandy’s leading scorer, who hurt his right shoulder with 18:41 left. He finished with nine points, all in the second half.
Henderson said the Commodores looked at what they did wrong in that 58-54 loss to Alabama, when they didn’t score a single field goal after going up 51-40 with 7:10 to go.
"We tried not to do those things and be calm and poised," he said.