NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Vanderbilt's Rebekah Dahlman struggled with her shooting for much of the night on Friday. But when the game was on the line, she hit the shot that mattered most.
With the Commodores locked in a tie against Belmont, Dahlman converted a crucial three-point play -- making a tough reverse layup and a free throw -- with 1:31 to go, and Vanderbilt stayed in front the rest of the way to post a season-opening 65-58 victory.
Dahlman, who missed most of last season after having a blood clot in her shoulder, finished just 3-of-10 from the floor. But her late-game layup gave the Commodores a huge boost, and enabled them to fend off the feisty Bruins (0-1).
"I think a lot of emotions were going through all of our heads," said Dahlman, who scored eight points in the win. "I give credit to Belmont; they're a great team. They came out really strong and fought all the way through. ... We will improve. I know we will."
Belmont stayed within striking distance of Vanderbilt throughout the game, and eventually took the lead, 58-57, on a jumper by freshman Sally McCabe with 3:09 to go. But Vanderbilt closed the game on an 8-0 run, fueled by Dahlman's 3-point play, to escape with the win.
Morgan Batey finished with a team-high 15 points, and freshman Audrey-Ann Caron-Goudreau had an impressive Memorial Gym debut, finishing with 10 points and 11 rebounds. Sophomore Marqu'es Webb and freshman Paris Kea added 11 points each for the Commodores, who owned a 32-27 lead at the half.
Jordyn Luffman-Hartsfield led Belmont with 22 points.
The victory enabled the Commodores (1-0) to extend a pair of streaks: They've now won nine consecutive season openers, and 29 straight home openers. This one, however, certainly wasn't easy.
Using a continuous stream of outside shots, the Bruins refused to let the Commodores to pull away. Belmont, which finished 10-of-27 from 3-point range, never trailed by more than eight points in the final 14 minutes, and used an 11-4 surge to take their first -- and only -- lead of the night on McCabe's basket with 3:09 to go. McCabe, who was a prep star at Mt. Juliet, finished with 10 points.
"It was a great game," said Vanderbilt head coach Melanie Balcomb. "They're a very good team, and I think that it's a great win for us. I think to be in that situation and to be able to make plays with young players on the floor like that, players that don't have a lot of experience, was exciting to see."
Vanderbilt was able to use its size advantage to win the rebounding battle, 46-36, with 20 of those rebounds coming on the offensive glass for the Commodores.
But Belmont clearly wasn't intimidated by Vanderbilt or the atmosphere at Memorial Gym.
"They came out fearless, and they came to win," said Webb.
Vanderbilt, which hosts Green Bay on Monday, endured a cold shooting performance. The Commodores shot 38 percent from the floor, including 27 percent from 3-point range, and also made just 10-of-17 (58 percent) from the foul line.
"It was an ugly win, but a win nonetheless," said Webb. "It's better to learn from a win than from a loss."