NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Vanderbilt Commodores keep insisting they're the same team as a season ago, with more experience. They're getting much more practice at losing on their own floor, however, and the latest loss is likely to drop them back out of the Top 25.
Jeffery Taylor scored 21 points, but 25th-ranked Vanderbilt scored only once in the final 6:31 in blowing an eight-point lead during a 61-55 loss to Indiana State. It was the Commodores' third non-conference loss at Memorial Gym this season, the most since the 1977-78 season when they lost to St. John's, Kansas State and Virginia Tech.
"Just untimely for us to go cold in stretches," Taylor said. "I can't really put my finger on it. I felt this was a game we should've won. It's really frustrating right now."
That's because these Commodores opened the season ranked seventh nationally, their highest preseason ranking since 1965. Home losses to Cleveland State and Xavier helped knock them out of the Top 25, and they had just gotten back into the rankings at No. 25 with the return of center Festus Ezeli from a sprained right knee that cost him the first eight games.
This time, they were coming off a 10-day break for finals with exams so scattered coach Kevin Stallings had trouble scheduling practices or having all his players available to hit the floor. Now they are 6-4, with the Southeastern Conference slate still ahead.
"It was not a very good performance," Stallings said. "It was not a very good week of practice. It was not a very good week overall."
Reserve RJ Mahurin scored 14 points, Carl Richard and Jordan Printy each had 11 and Jake Odum added 10 with seven assists as Indiana State got its first win over a ranked team since 2006.
Steve McWhorter held John Jenkins, the Southeastern Conference's top scorer, to a season-low 11 points, and the sophomore guard hit two free throws with 3:32 left to put Indiana State ahead for good.
"It's not rocket science to look in there as much as possible and scout the best you can," Indiana State coach Greg Lansing said.
Indiana State (8-2) earned its fifth win in 12 games against SEC teams and first since beating Vanderbilt on Dec. 22, 1984, in Terre Haute. The Sycamores are off to their best start since opening 8-1 in 2005-06, and Lansing called this a big win for his program.
"It's going to be a good ride home," he said.
Jenkins had been averaging a league-best 21.3 points this season. Brad Tinsley had 12.
"They did a good job of getting up on John," Stallings said. "He was too quick to try and pinch off shots. There was no rhythm to our offense, but we had no rhythm the whole week of practice."
Looking rusty, Vanderbilt fell behind by 12 early before going cold late, and Taylor had no explanation.
"We're going to have to figure it out. It can't keep going like this," he said. "We're a much better team than we're playing right now."
The Sycamores led by as many as 12 in the first half and nine in the second half. Vanderbilt rallied to take the lead each time and led by as much as 53-45 with 6:32 left on Lance Goulbourne's three-point play. The Commodores then went cold and shot so poorly late that fans started heading for the exits in the final minute.
"I was worried some," Lansing said of falling behind at that point. "We've done that a lot, letting opponents come back. We calmed down on the offensive end, and that helped us be a better defense. We've been guilty of poor offense leading to poor defense. Having the ball in Odum's hands at the end makes me feel comfortable."
Printy hit a 3-pointer, then McWhorter put Indiana State ahead to stay with his free throws. Odum, who committed six turnovers, scored four of his 10 points in the final 2:44 to help seal the win.
Indiana State outshot Vanderbilt 43.1 percent (22 of 51) to 38 percent (19 of 50), and the Sycamores were even better from 3-point range. They hit 10 of 21 compared to Vandy's 6 of 22. Jenkins, leading the nation with 3.9 3-pointers per game, was just 1 of 6 beyond the arc.
The Commodores struggled shooting even at the free throw line, hitting only 11 of 18.
With the game tied at 28 at halftime, Indiana State scored 10 of the first 11 points to open the second half and led 38-29 on a fast-break layup by Odum.
Taylor started a 12-0 run with a 3, a pair of free throws, another 3 and then a high-flying dunk off a steal by Tinsley that had fans roaring. Tinsley then scored on a layup for a 41-38 lead with 15:21 left. Vanderbilt grabbed its biggest lead at 53-45 but didn't score again until it was too late.