As one of the youngest teams in the country last season, Vanderbilt's 1-5 start to Southeastern Conference play was as much a product of that lack of experience as the level of competition. The players looked rattled at times as they adjusted to the highs and lows of SEC.
After staring at a 16-point deficit against Auburn in the first half Saturday afternoon at Memorial Gym and coolly slicing and dicing their way to an 82-74 victory, unflappable is a more accurate word to describe the Commodores (15-3, 4-0) nowadays.
A stellar second half, particularly by sophomore forward Jeffery Taylor and junior center A.J. Ogilvy, keyed the rousing come-from-behind win to extend Vanderbilt's perfect conference start to 4-0 and give them seven consecutive victories over SEC West opponents dating to last season.
"I think we're surprising some people," Taylor said. "We're a really talented team and we're beginning to put things together. It's where you want to be right now."
A year has made quite a difference. What once might have panicked these same players now doesn't even make them blink, and they're riding a nine-game winning streak as a result.
"I think last year, the youth of our team was something we just couldn't overcome," Ogilvy said. "Having the experience under your belt, you can't put words into how much it helps you in a game like that. I think that experience helped get us back into it."
Sophomore guard Brad Tinsley scored the final seven points of the first half for the Commodores to help cut the deficit to 11 at halftime. Despite a poor defensive effort, particularly on the boards, Vanderbilt was by no means out of it.
In the second half, it was Taylor and Ogilvy's time to break out, and Auburn was quickly on its heels. The Commodores opened the half with an 11-4 run and kept up the pressure after the Tigers called a time-out.
"We came together, the crowd got into it, and we just took off from there," Tinsley said.
After Taylor played just six minutes of the first half because of foul trouble, he poured in 18 points in the second, hitting 5-6 shots and all 8 of his free throws.
"In the second half, I was playing a little bit smarter," Taylor said. "Just came out and was aggressive. That's usually the way I play."
Ogilvy had 12 of his 17 points in the second half and effectively fouled out two Auburn players.
It was a tougher effort on defense that was the difference. After getting out-rebounded 22-10 in the opening half, the Commodores started limiting the Tigers to one-shot possessions, frustrating the Auburn players into taking ill-advised deep shots. After the Tigers shot 16-30 (53 percent) in the opening stanza, they were limited to 9-24 (38 percent) in the second.
"Obviously we weren't playing as well as we needed to on the defensive end," Ogilvy said. "In the second half, we were able to get a spark from our defense and we got some easy scores."
Vanderbilt kept getting to the rim for lay-ups and finally took the lead for good at 55-53 on a deep 3-pointer by freshman John Jenkins with 11:39 remaining, the team's only trey of the half, prompting Taylor to turn to the student section and scream, "Let's go!"
The Tigers called time-out yet again but to no avail. The Commodores extended the lead to as many as 11 points after a lay-up by Tinsley, capping a 46-19 run over a 20-minute period, and cruising from there.
Vanderbilt takes its perfect start into two of the toughest venues in the conference this week at rivals Tennessee and Kentucky, two other teams that have yet to drop a conference game.
But in this case, it's an opportunity for Vanderbilt to not shrink away from, but rather to relish.
"Any time you get to play two ranked teams in one week, it's really exciting," Ogilvy said. "We're going to make sure we practice hard and give it our best shot."