NASHVILLE (AP) — The Vanderbilt Commodores finally are winning just the kind of close games they couldn't finish earlier this season.
Kedren Johnson hit all four of his free throws in the final 19.8 seconds, and the 10th-seeded Commodores upset No. 7 seed Arkansas 75-72 Thursday night in their first chance at defending their Southeastern Conference tournament championship.
"We have more composure, more confidence that we're going to win because we have won some," Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said. "We've won some close ones. That's the only thing that gives you confidence to win close ones is to win close ones."
The Commodores (15-16) lost the top six players off that title team with three now playing in the NBA. They will play No. 2 seed Kentucky in the quarterfinals Friday night in a rematch of last year's championship game. Kentucky beat the Commodores 60-58 in Nashville and 74-70 in Lexington in the regular season.
"We were just trying to make it to the next day regardless of who we had to play," junior forward Rod Odom said. "Our biggest goal was just to make it to Friday. We're happy to be playing on Friday."
Arkansas (19-13) lost for the 12th time in 13 games away from Fayetteville including three times on neutral courts. Not even the fans calling the hogs helped it feel enough like home as the Razorbacks last led at 9-7. They also now have lost five straight tournament openers, the last two under coach Mike Anderson.
"It's disappointing for me from that standpoint," Anderson said. "It gives me the mindset, 'You know what? We ain't gonna let it happen again.' But there's nothing you can do. Vandy played better than we did today, and we'll learn from it. We'll learn from it, and hopefully it'll make us better as we hopefully continue to play."
Odom led Vanderbilt with a season-high 20 points, Kyle Fuller had 19, Johnson finished with 13 and Dai-Jon Parker 11.
BJ Young led Arkansas with 16 points. Marshawn Powell had 13 before fouling out late and Michael Qualls added 10.
These young Commodores made it way too interesting as Arkansas clawed its way back, trimming a 59-43 score to 70-68 on a pair of free throws by Young with 50.9 seconds left. Then Vanderbilt, which had hit as many 3-pointers in the second half as free throws (6 of 15), hit 5 of 6 at the line in clinching the win in the final 19.8 seconds.
"It's a hard loss," Arkansas guard Rashad Madden said.
Only three of the current Commodores even averaged more than three minutes a game on last season's team, and the growing pains were very obvious all of this season as the Commodores racked up 10 close losses in the SEC including one in overtime, two by four points, one by two points and a pair of road games by a point.
But the Commodores now have won five of their last six, and they used their shooting prowess beyond the arc. Vanderbilt ranks eighth out of 347 Division I teams, taking 43.6 percent of its shots from 3-point range, and third nationally scoring 38.5 percent of its points off 3s.
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